On March 20, 2022, a dispute arose between a Yanomami community from the upper Orinoco and military personnel from the Parima “B” air base, Amazonas state, resulting in four indigenous persons being killed by firearms and five injured, including a teenager and two soldiers. The conflict originated from the refusal of the military to give access to the Wi-Fi signal to the Yanomami community.
The attorney general imposed by the national constituent assembly announced that he had ordered the investigation of the events, describing them as a “confrontation”, when, according to information from reliable sources, the soldiers fired firearms, being repelled by the Yanomami with arrows.
In contrast to the reaction of the attorney general, Wataniba an NGO which works for the rights of the indigenous peoples of the Venezuelan Amazon, described the act as an excessive use of force. For its part, the Working Group on Indigenous Affairs (GTAI) of the Universidad de Los Andes recalled that this event is taking place almost 30 years after the massacre of the Yanomami of Haxumú in which 16 Yanomami were killed, in 1993.
In December 1996, the Apostolic Vicariate of Puerto Ayacucho, the Venezuelan Program for Education-Action on Human Rights (PROVEA), the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) and Human Rights Watch filed a complaint about the massacre with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). In October 1997, the IACHR placed itself at the disposal of the parties to reach a friendly settlement, after which there were several rounds to reach agreements.
The main demands of the victims’ representatives focused on measures to ensure the integrity of the Yanomami territory in the face of constant incursions by garimpeiros (gold miners), the installation of a health post and the investigation, prosecution and punishment of those responsible of the massacre. The few advances in the negotiations suffered a setback in 2004, when the government of Hugo Chávez “presented objections to the friendly settlement agreement, requesting the signing of a new agreement. On May 5, 2006, the IACHR informed the parties that it concluded its intervention in the friendly settlement procedure, deciding to continue processing the petition, at the petitioners’ request.
The new terms of the agreement were approved by the IACHR on March 20, 2012. However, almost 30 years after the Haximú massacre, and exactly 10 years after the agreement, the Yanomami territory continues to be the target of incursions. In 2019, the IACHR noted that “communities of the Yanomami people, in whose territories illegal mining is practiced, would have suffered attacks by miners and rapes of women.”
More recently, in August 2020, the team of SOS Orinoco warned that “The Covid-19 pandemic threatens to hit the peoples of the Biosphere Reserve, if it is not already doing so, coming from Brazil where it is already its infection has been demonstrated to Yanomami on that side of the border, especially when the invasion of Brazilian garimpeiro miners into Venezuelan Yanomami territory is still in full swing and there is no obvious action to prevent it by the Venezuelan military authorities”. The organization also reported on the presence of guerrilla groups in the Yanomami territory.
The conflict is far from resolved. The Yanomami community has prevented the soldiers responsible for the murders from being transfered from the military base. “The problem happened here, and the case has to be closed here,” says a Yanomami woman in a video shared by Survival International on Twitter.
Wataniba’s statement should serve as food for thought: “The incident between military personnel from the Parima B air base and the Yanomami community in the area highlights a problem with deep roots. Although the WiFi signal was the trigger, it is not an isolated event. It is the result of an accumulation of tensions, abuses, and violations of the fundamental rights of indigenous peoples that, for decades, have been denounced by indigenous and human rights organizations, activists and the victims themselves”.
If the situation of the Yanomami people was complicated 30 years ago, today it is much more compromised, due to the fact that the illegal mining incursions take place with the consent and even the participation of Venezuelan officials. A destruction that must stop with the support of the international community.