Members of the Pemón indigenous people on June 1 blocked the landing strip of Venezuela's Canaima National Park in southern Bolívar state, in protest of illegal miners operating on their lands. The action was undertaken to mark the 20th anniversary of Canaima being declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Leaders announced via Twitter that the Pemón will maintain a state of "rebellion" until there is action on the issue. Over the last decade, illegal mining for gold, diamonds and other minerals has spread rapidly through the Venezuelan Amazon, affecting peoples including the Pemón, Yanomami, Hoti, Eñepa, Yekuana and Arekuna. Some operations run by armed gangs said to be linked to Colombia's FARC guerillas. Rivers are being contaminated with poisonous mercury used in gold mining, devastating the health of indigenous communities. In some communities, the infiltration of gangs has led to prostitution and alcoholism.
The indigenous peoples of the region have denounced the Venezuelan military for failing to tackle the illegal mining and for “creating a climate of terror and fear.” Some officers are known to be involved in the illegal gold trade, according to UK-based Survival International. While Venezuela’s constitution recognizes indigenous peoples' rights to their ancestral lands, few have received official title to their territories and the government has announced it will open up large parts of the Amazon rainforest to legal mining. (Survival International, June 18; VTV, El Universal, Caracas, June 1)