Stop the persecution and torture of the Pemón Indigenous People in Venezuela

By Venezuelan grassroots organizations and activists
Photo: Tiago Orihuela

Statement by the Observatory of Political Ecology of Venezuela

We want to express our deep sorrow and condolences to the families of the victims of the massacre in Santa Elena de Uairén, which took place on the 22nd and 23rd of February 2019. Three indigenous Pemones: Zoraida Rodríguez, José Elsey Pérez Márquez and Kleyver Pérez; and two non-indigenous Venezuelans, José Hernández and José Barrios Carrasco, were killed with firearms, while exercising their right to pacific protest, by the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB). We affirm our commitment to achieve justice and that no impunity prevails in this state crime.

We welcome the precautionary measures interposed by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) MC-181-19, which oblige Venezuela to protect and guarantee the life and integrity of the indigenous Pemones and the community of San Francisco de Yuruaní, Kumaracapai. We plead for its strict compliance by Nicolás Maduro, Gral. Vladimir Padrino López, Tarek William Saab, Alfredo Ruíz, Justo Noguera, as well as the military and national police members in charge of operations in Santa Elena de Uairén, Maurak and its surroundings.

Nevertheless, we denounce that the repression and harassment against the Pemón people and communities at the border with Brazil persists. 58 people have been detained (16 indigenous Pemones, 4 teenagers, 20 of them pending presentation for accusation and behind bars in Escamoto Fort). The General Hospital in Brazil reported having received 23 wounded by gunshots, 13 of them in severe state, between February 22nd and 24th.

Persecution against indigenous leaders

We have received grave complaints about illegal break-ins, by the Bolivarian National Police (PNB) and the GNB, in houses, shops in Santa Elena de Uairén, San Antonio de Morichal, Caño Amarillo, the Municipal Market, searching through lists marking indigenous and non-indigenous people as dissidents, sowing fear among the population and forcing them to flee or be forcibly displaced. We have documented cases of at least 9 people: a family composed of a Pemón mother and a non-indigenous father, with 2 Pemón children; 2 Pemón adults and 3 non-indigenous who have not been able to return to their houses or communities for being threatened. To this we must add the Mayor of the Gran Sabana municipality, the indigenous Pemón Emilio González, legitimately elected by popular votes, which together with his family has received severe threats to his integrity, freedom and life. Checkpoints have been illegally installed using tanks and members of the GNB, interrupting vehicle and pedestrian movements. The last one was installed today, from 8am till 1pm, in San José de Morichal, checking all the vehicles and people transiting the area. Currently there is a state of persecution and repression based on political discrimination, violating fundamental rights that put in risk their freedom, integrity and life.

Violation to the right of medical assistance and access to food

To this day, 1st of March 2019, the Rosario Vera Zurita hospital is taken by members of the GNB and the PNB, limiting and denying access, controlling patients and relatives. They do not allow entrance to journalists or humanitarian assistance or religious [organizations], denying access to information on patients and their condition. Until now it’s not possible to confirm how many wounded were attended or how many are still hospitalized as a result of the actions which occurred on the 22nd and 23rd of February. On the other hand, those who need attention are forced, out of fear of retaliation, detention or mistreatment, to go to Pacaraima by foot in order to gain access to medical attention, violating the already diminished access to health. The military and police takeover of the Rosario Vera Zurita hospital in Santa Elena de Uairén must stop immediately, we demand the withdrawal of officials, allowing normalcy and open access without restrictions for all people to its facilities.

We notice that the network of food supplies in Santa Elena de Uairén and surroundings communities, as well as medicines and supplies, depend entirely from the flow and exchange with Pacaraima, Brazil. The border exchange allows access to goods that guarantee fundamental rights that, due to the Complex Humanitarian Emergency, do not exist in Venezuela. The closure of the border is aggravating in an accelerated manner the situation in the border area. Food is scarce and prices increase affecting the most vulnerable ones. Indigenous Pemones, due to the persecution and fear, have not been able to take what they produce in their lands to commercial exchange centers affecting the cycle and survival of the sector. The opening of the border is urgent to prevent a crushing effect of the Complex Humanitarian Emergency in the area.

Abuse of power in indigenous territory

On February 27 2019, in a violent manner, a group of GNB throwing tear gas and shots took the Santa Elena de Uairén airport. Its facilities are inside the border of the Maurak and Turasen area, an indigenous Pemón territory and together with the National Institute of Civil Aviation (INAC)  the indigenous people participate in the control, administration and custody of it. They illegally detained a citizen who, when identified and proving not to be indigenous, was released, and they also detained 3 indigenous Pemones, Nicodemo Martínez, Boris William Hernández and Jorge Gómez, son of the indigenous Pemón Chief Jorge Gómez from sector VI of Santa Elena de Uairén. The 3 were taken to Escamoto Fort, and then to the GNB Command in the Mariscal de Sucre Avenue. There they were tortured and given cruel and inhuman treatments. According to testimonies they were beaten with sticks, kicked, had spice thrown at them and were applied electricity. They were threatened, accused of being part of the Pemón Territorial Guard and that for this reason they were going to kill them, burn them. After several dialogue commissions between the Captain and indigenous authorities from sector VI of Santa Elena de Uairén with the military, they were taken back to Escamoto Fort and released around 11pm. The 3 showed marks of beating, bruises, one of them in the eye. They could not be taken to the hospital as it’s taken by members of the PNB and GNB. In the night they were taken to Pacaraima hospital in Brazil.

We activists demand

We condemn the assassination of unarmed indigenous people protesting peacefully inside their ancestral territories and under their jurisdiction, as well as the tortures, cruel and degrading treatments. When a traditional leader of an indigenous community is killed or tortured an act of collective aggression is committed, physically and spiritually, against the entire community. These acts are unacceptable and they aim at intimidating, terrorizing and achieve the submission and forced displacement of native people. It also divides and fractures their legitimate organizations and the full exercise of their autonomy and jurisdiction in their territories.

Therefore, we demand:

– The immediate cessation of tortures, cruel and inhuman treatments against any person, indigenous or not, by military forces, police or a third party. They constitute crimes against humanity and as such we are producing the reports and denunciations to international instances.

– The protection to the integrity and life of the Pemón population of Manakru (Santa Elena #6 ) and Kumarakapai (Sector Kawanayen #5) including Maurak, Turasen, Wuara, Sampai. Of the indigenous Pemones Nicodemo Martínez, Boris William Hernández and Jorge Gómez, the Mayor Emiliano González and all the members, indigenous women and men from the Pemón Territorial Guard, as well as their indigenous Chiefs and legitimate authorities.

– The immediate cessation of the militarization and the departure of the Bolivarian National Armed Forces and the PNB from the indigenous Pemón territories of Santa Elena de Uairén, Manakru and Kumarakapai, Maurak, Turasen, Wuara, Sampai.

– The cessation of the use of persecutory lists and harassment against members of the Pemón Territorial Guard, leaders and indigenous authorities, community leaders and citizens based on political discrimination, as well as the break-ins and illegal detentions.

– The immediate opening of the border with Brazil to allow the normalization of community life, and prevent the deterioration of the effects of the Complex Humanitarian Emergency, especially on extremely vulnerable sectors that include children, indigenous and non-indigenous women.

– The full and immediate release of all the detained on protests and dissidents detained in Escamoto Fort.

– The cessation and withdrawal of the security forces and the military from the Rosario Vera Zurita hospital in Santa Elena de Uairén, as well as from the Santa Elena de Uairén airport, in indigenous territory with shared administration with the ancestral Pemón people.

– To the international community and the human rights protection institutions and the institutions protecting the rights of indigenous people and communities to stay alert and act to stop and condemn all these acts, which attack the individual and collective dignity of the Pemón people and the communities of the Canaima municipality and surroundings.


Amerindian Cause Kiwxi

Human Rights Committee of La Guajira.

Fundación Centro Gumilla

Active Non violence Citizen Laboratory (Labo)

Peace Laboratory (LabPaz)

Amazonic Indigenous Women’s Organization Wanaaleru

Venezuelan Education and Action Human Rights Program (Provea)

SIC magazine

Intercultural Indigenous Organization Wainjirawa

Climate 21-Environment and Human Rights

Correo del Caroní

Las Piloneras

Venezuelan Progressive Institute

Southern Orinoco Initiative of the Venezuelan Ecology Society

Platform against the Orinoco Mining Arc



Tradeunions and organizations of the Workers’ Intersectorial of Venezuela (ITV)

CANTV Workers’ Union

Federation of University Teachers’ Associations of Venezuela (FAPUV)

Foreign Ministry Workers’ Union

Oil Ministry Workers’ Union

Sindical Arch of the Caracas Metro

Active and retired Workers’ Front of the Caracas Metro

Libertador municipality Workers’ Union

Ecology and Social Civil Association Chunikai

Gustavo Montes U.

Sonia Arias.

Aguaclara Foundation

Foundation for the prevention of violence against women (FUNDAMUJER)

Venezuelan Observatory for Womens’ Human Rights (OVDHM)

Observatory of Political Ecology of Venezuela

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