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New video shines light on massacre of indigenous group by Venezuelan government

Jim Wyss, Miami Herald on

Published in News & Features

Brutal new images of an indigenous massacre in southern Venezuela emerged Friday, almost five months after the government deployed troops to keep international aid from entering the country.

The Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights organization and the Venezuelan nonprofit Foro Penal released footage Friday that appears to capture a government attack on a Pemon village, in which at least seven people died and 57 were injured.

The attacks came amid an attempt in February to move humanitarian aid from Brazil and Colombia into Venezuela. The government used troops to stop the deliveries. While much of the media attention was focused on the Colombian-Venezuelan border, where aid trucks were set afire amid the melee, the clashes in southern Venezuela were far more lethal.

The confrontation began Feb. 22, when soldiers pushing into the village were confronted by the Pemon community. According to a United Nations report released July 4, three villagers were killed and 12 were wounded that day. In addition, four soldiers were captured and mistreated by the community.

The following day, the Bolivarian National Guard returned, using "excessive force" in and around the town of Santa Elena with soldiers "shooting indiscriminately from armored vehicles at close range, as well as attacks against a hospital," the United Nations said.

Due to a lack of medical supplies, the injured had to be transferred more than 120 miles into Brazil for treatment. The area remains militarized, and more than 900 Pemon have fled the village, according to Foro Penal.

The new footage shows villagers running amid heavy gunfire and crowds carrying the bloody and wounded through the streets. In one segment, a woman is heard wailing, "Why? Why? We're humans."

The video emerges after the two human rights groups began collecting evidence from the area in March.

"We spoke with scores of women, men and children who survived the twin massacres by the Venezuelan armed forces. A toddler clutched his mother while his father was shot to death in front of him," Kerry Kennedy, the president of the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights organization, said in a statement. "The evidence of atrocities is overwhelming. All this bloodshed in retaliation for simply trying to receive international aid to feed their families.

 

"We hope this video helps bring to life the horror facing indigenous communities and other citizens in Venezuela every day," she added.

"The attack and political persecution against Venezuelan indigenous Pemon people shows that the use of political repression by the government to control power has no limits," Alfredo Romero, the executive director of Foro Penal, said. "Our indigenous peoples deserve international attention and solidarity."

Venezuela is trapped in a deep political, economic and social crisis that has forced more than 4 million people to flee in recent years. The United States and dozens of other countries are pushing for leader Nicolas Maduro to step down and make way for new elections.

Maduro, 57, blames the country's woes -- including food and medicine shortages and hyperinflation -- on sanctions and "economic warfare" and accuses the opposition of trying to mount coups to topple him.

(c)2019 Miami Herald

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