After the Massacre

One month ago today, soldiers opened fire on civilians in Kumarakapay and Santa Elena de Uairén, killing seven. The civilians had sought to stop the military from blocking humanitarian aid from Brazil. The media left it at that. Here’s what happened next.

Photo: “Kumarakapay y el Río Yuraní,” from La Historia de los Pemon de Kumarakapay, by Roroimökuk Damük, Ediciones IVIC, 2010.

After the massacre you go to the first funeral. The day is hot and cloudless. You walk to church. The pastor says her name: Zoraida Rodríguez.

She was your cousin. You, Juvencio Gomez, are a village leader, a former chief, an important person in this community. Tomorrow, Kumarakapay will look to you. Today, you are the cousin of the dead.

It is Monday, February 25th. They killed Zoraida last Friday morning, not long after sunrise. When a neighbor told you the news you did not know whether to believe it; the street was all confusion, all shouts and people running, and some of the injured lay motionless. Perhaps Zoraida was only injured. Now it is Monday, and now you know: Zoraida is dead.

The pastor gives a sermon, but you do not hear it. You hear only your own thoughts.

You walk to the cemetery, one kilometer outside the village. It is hot. Some of the women wear scarves to shield against the sun. Others carry umbrellas; one is bright teal, another is lavender, the color of flowers growing at a nearby gravesite. The mourners sing before lowering Zoraida into the ground.

There are many things you do not yet know.

You do not yet know that dozens of military men will descend on the village, imposing a makeshift martial law.

You do not yet know that the men will coerce false confessions from villagers, as if to implicate innocents in the violence.

What you do know, walking back from burying Zoraida, is why they killed her.

You do not yet know how brazenly the governor of Bolívar, PSUV’s Justo Noguera, will seek to divide your people. His representatives will invite villagers to board buses to Santa Elena de Uairén, to buy food, with the help of a small cash handout; then, the buses will stop at the military fort of Escamoto for a surprise audience with the governor. Governor Noguera wants you to see this conflict as Kumarakapay against Kumarakapay. Not Kumarakapay against the State.

You do not yet know that, three weeks hence, a small military plane will crash in the forest southeast of Kumarakapay, near Maurak. Strangely, cinematically, the dead will be those rumored to have perpetrated the massacre.

Today, Monday, February 25, mourners stand around Zoraida’s grave, but her husband, Rolando Garcia, is not there. He was shot, too, and whisked away to a hospital in Boa Vista, in Brazil.

You do not yet know that Rolando Garcia will die. He will live six days and then die on March 3, and you will miss his funeral: he will be buried in Brazil, because the border will be closed even to the deceased.

You do not yet know that the five children of Zoraida Rodríguez and Rolando Garcia will be orphans.

What you do know, walking back from burying Zoraida, is why they killed her.

Twenty-five years have passed since your first term as the chief of Kumarakapay, and those years have taught you something about politics. You know that the government wants control of the gold mines on your land. You know that by killing some who resist, by frightening their families into exile in Brazil, by sowing division, by stationing troops in the village day and night, the military officers under Nicolás Maduro imagine that they will prevail.

You hope that they are wrong.