The Uwottüja people, who live in Venezuela’s Amazonas state, said in a meeting for indigenous communities that the Nicolás Maduro regime does not address their problems and needs. The communities living near the four rivers (Sipapo, Cuao, Autana, and Guayapo) and the mid-Orinoco sector have decided to defend themselves with their own means from the “silent invasion” by organized armed groups and criminal gangs and practices of illegal activities in their territories, said the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Wataniba, which does socio-environmental work in the Amazon.
“We reject illegal mining exploitation inside our territory and the transit of illicit activities, such as narcotrafficking,” the Uwottüja Council of Elders representative said in March in Pendare, Amazonas. The council also urged the regime to “explain why the armed groups claim to have the Venezuelan government’s authorization to remain in the territory.”
“This criminal association began with then President Hugo Chávez, who promoted Maduro in collusion with different military institutions. A bad marriage that systematically violates the rights of all the communities where it operates,” Eduardo Varnagy, an academic at the Simón Bolívar University in Caracas, told Diálogo. “The illegal Colombian armed groups are [Maduro’s] great associates in exerting political and social control in the country; they subdue the population by threatening them with weapons.”
On March 26, the U.S. Department of Justice charged Maduro and his closest accomplices with narcoterrorism, corruption, and money laundering, in addition to partnering with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC, in Spanish) to export tons of drugs to the United States. The U.S. authorities are offering $15 million for information leading to his arrest.
“The FARC can guarantee the armed defense to keep Maduro in power,” said Varnagy. “Also, several fronts of the National Liberation Army [ELN, in Spanish] and the Colombian People’s Liberation Army operate throughout Venezuelan territory.”
At least 28 criminal groups, both foreign and national, engage in narcotrafficking, illegal mining, and terrorism, using weapons of the Bolivarian Army, says the Venezuelan human rights NGO Funda Redes. The indigenous populations in the Bolívar and Amazonas states are the most affected, the organization said.
“Venezuela has ceased to be a bridge and has become an international hub of criminal operations,” said Varnagy. “All this with the approval and protection of the Maduro regime,” Javier Tarazona, head of Funda Redes, told Diálogo.
The native Venezuelans are exposed to the “terror” generated by these armed groups, who seek to impose obedience, with extortion and murder rates that reach extraordinary peaks in some communities, says the report Violence in Southern Venezuela from Belgian NGO International Crisis Group, which works to prevent wars.
“Little by little, the FARC and the ELN have begun to exert territorial control in the country, not only in geographical areas, but also in economic activities, where they protect Russian and Chinese mining contracts for gold, coltan, and diamonds,” Varnagy added. “They force indigenous and traditional communities to migrate to safeguard their physical integrity,” Tarazona concluded.