Nicolas Maduro’s Ethnic Cleansing in Venezuela

The Chavista movement claimed to champion the rights of indigenous peoples; now they are seeking to exterminate them.

Pemon children from the state of Bolivar (Flickr).

By Hector Schamis

February 23, 2019, was the day chosen to distribute international humanitarian aid in Venezuela. To this end, the stockpiling of food and medicines was arranged in Cúcuta, Colombia. From there, three nearby migratory points could be accessed over the Táchira river.

This help never entered. The scenes lived on the bridges Simón Bolívar, Tienditas and Francisco Paula de Santander spoke for themselves. The trucks with aid were set ablaze by the repression of the Nicolás Maduro shock forces, in what amounted to a paramilitary battle with gas, pellets, and bullets against civilians equipped with stones and Molotov cocktails.

The uneasiness was generalized. At nightfall there was a press conference in which Juan Guaidó accused the Maduro regime of committing “a crime of extermination.” Which the vice president of Maduro, Delcy Rodríguez, corroborated the next day with a partially true confession: “They have only seen a bit of what we are capable of,” she told the world with the usual Chavista obscenity.

Just a bit, then. If what we saw in Cúcuta had been horrible, the images that arrived from the border of Venezuela with Brazil were especially disturbing. A truck with humanitarian aid had been able to enter, and then came reports of an authentic massacre against those who came to procure food and medicine. The specific target of the repression was the Pemón indigenous community that inhabits the area.

This was confirmed today thanks to two studies, one from the Venezuelan Criminal Forum and the other by the OAS-Casla Institute mission in Prague. Working independently on their studies, both teams came to the conclusion that the incident involved a systematic attack by the security forces and groups of armed civilians, carried out between February 22 and 28, against citizens of various municipalities in the Gran Sabana area of Bolívar state.

The victims were disproportionately from the Pemón indigenous community. Criminal Forum reports that, over the course of the six days, 7 people were killed by bullet wounds, 4 of them belonged to the Pemón ethnic group; 57 people were injured, 22 of them indigenous; and hundreds of arbitrary arrests occurred, mostly of Pemones.

Many of the injured had to be transferred to the general hospital in Boa Vista, in the state of Roraima, Brazil, which has the necessary medical supplies. To date, more than nine hundred people from this aboriginal community have had to flee and move to Brazilian territory as a result of being persecuted and threatened with death.

The Rome Statute describes such systematic and widespread attacks against the civilian population as crimes against humanity. They include among them the crime of extermination, deportation, or forced transfer and the persecution of a group or community with its own identity based on political, racial, national and ethnic reasons, among others.

Ethnic cleansing is a term of political significance, not merely legal, although it describes aspects of the crime of genocide and forced deportation. The term evokes the experience of the Balkan War, as the word became generalized thereafter. During that war, at the beginning of the 1990s, millions of people were displaced: for example, the Bosnians by the Bosnian Serb forces of the Republika Srpska and then, between 1998 and 1999, 800,000 Kosovars were forced to leave their homes by the Serbian military.

This concept deals with the attempt to remove or eliminate a specific population from a certain territory, in order to homogenize it ethnically, or with the objective of expelling an undesirable group, given a conception based on an ethnic or religious supremacy.

Beyond the smaller number of victims compared to the situation in the former Yugoslavia, the reports of the Criminal Forum and the OAS-Casla Institute Mission go in the same direction: they document a type of crime similar to those committed in Bosnia and Kosovo.

Which is what really matters. The Maduro regime already has several complaints against it for crimes against humanity filed in the International Criminal Court. What happened at the border of Venezuela with Brazil adds a new category of abuse, and surely the relevant evidence will be sent to The Hague.

The Chavista regime has been based on a giant lie. The so-called Bolivarian Revolution was for the poor, whom today constitute more than 87% of Venezuelans. It was for social equality, yet today Venezuela is the second most unequal country on the continent. It was for sovereignty, in what is today a protectorate of the Cuban military.

It also claimed to champion the rights of indigenous peoples, subdued by the Spanish conquest and exploited by dependent capitalism for the benefit of the empire. Or so they told us, but today the people have been annihilated by a criminal organization that controls the repressive instruments of (the little that remains of) a state: Venezuela.

Héctor Schamis is an Argentine academic and writer. He is currently a professor at the Center for Latin American Studies at Georgetown University, the author of several books, and an opinion writer in several media outlets. Follow him at @hectorschamis.

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