Yanosequépensar about the Yanomami Massacre

If a massacre happens in the middle of the jungle, and nobody’s there to see it, should it make a headline?

This is the troubling question we’ve all been having to wrestle over the last few days as we look at the strange story of the Apocalypse Now style massacre of up to 80 Amazonian indigenous people deep in the heart of the jungle, at the hand of helicopter-riding Brazilian illegal miners.

The Venezuelan government – for reasons clear only to itself – rushed to announce the story was a hoax, even as indigenous organizations noted, in polite, extremely-careful-not-to-antagonize-the-powerful statements, that investigators dismissed their claims before actually visiting  the site of the alleged massacre.

Now, the word “remote” gets tossed around a lot in journalistic circles. But the Irotatheri Shabono (village) where the massacre allegedly took place must be one of the most inaccessible points on the planet: a miniscule speck of human settlement miles and miles from the nearest road, in the middle of the wilderness.

Corroborating anything that happens that far from anything is impossible for non-state actors. There ain’t no cellphone towers in Irotatheri, and nobody has a Blackberry. In fact, it took the handful of survivors days walking in the jungle to get the news out.

We will probably never know what really happened at Irotatheri Shabono. There were no witnesses, and even if there had been a proper investigation, by the time news of the event reached the outside world weeks had passed and evidence would’ve been badly degraded.

Still, it made me think…

You can’t get through a news bulletin in a first world country without eventually hearing some police or government spokesman say “we do not comment on ongoing investigations,” or words to that effect.

I hate it when they do that. I want to find out what’s going on, the person on the screen clearly knows more about it than I do, but he won’t tell me. It’s infuriating! It never really made sense to me why they would be so obtuse about it…until the Chávez era came along.

Chavistas never refrain from commenting on ongoing investigations. And that turns those investigations into charades.

It was the same thing after Amuay, and with the same result: when official spokesmen start running their mouths before a proper investigation has been carried out, they box themselves in, ruling out whole swathes of potential truth before there’s been a chance to really find out. They leave their investigators in an impossible position: all of a sudden, there are certain things their investigation is not allowed to find out, because it would make liars out of their bosses.

Now, let’s be clear: It may be that insufficient maintenance and worker inexperience really had nothing to do with the Amuay disaster. It may be that there was no Yanomami Massacre after all.

Those things are possible.

But by announcing them as fact before looking at all the evidence, the government makes a mockery of the investigations that follow.

21 thoughts on “Yanosequépensar about the Yanomami Massacre

  1. Well, there’s that old adage, “Think ill and you’ll be on the money”; the problem with outright denials as that nothing in life is SO outright: everything has its shades. And, as a general consideration, I’d have a second look at phrases such as “…whole swathes of potential truth…”. I avoid the term ‘truth’ as far as practicable: there is a hue of “…or lies” that can invite conflict where none is sought and most of the time, “facts” will fill the bill. Also, “facts” tend to be cold and uncooperative, i.e., unlikely to court conflict; “truth”, on the other hand, invites massage and all that that implies so too, the “whole swathes of potential …” exhibits similarities to minefields.

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  2. Is there no record whatsoever, either official or otherwise, of the names of any of the presumptively murdered people? If there is, and the government cannot produce them, this would certainly go a long way to establishing that a mass murder did occur. Did the people who reported this know nothing of the deceased, so their individuality cannot be established? As long as the report is on the basis that eighty generic natives died, it will be easy to dispute. But once there are names, we can ask the question: Donde estan?

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    • I read somewhere that one of the three to trek for 2 weeks to get to a phone to report the story was muzzled by the government and has since sealed his lips.

      Hard to get names until we know more, unfortunately.

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  3. At first I believed the story but afterwards with no proof what so ever I began to think it was all made up to create an atmosphere of chaos around Venezuela. All the media had to support the story is a few people who said that a massacre happened with no proof whatsoever. The media took the bite with its hunger for news against the government. At the end, the media went to far with the story with no investigative reporting. I believe it was irresponsible to take it this far. The government took this story to its advantage and started threatening the media, also a mistake. At the end for me it is a win for the government and a loss for the media where the Yanomamis actually are not even involved…..

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    • Which is more irresponsible: to report the claims and demand a proper investigation, or to dismiss them without even reaching the scene of the alleged massacre, as ministers Nicia Maldonado and Tareck El Aissami did? The fact that the government has (1) been falling over itself to say nothing happened, even before it could possibly have known the truth, and (2) can’t even get its story straight is more than enough justification for continuing to demand a proper independent inquiry. Fiscal Ortega Diaz, for example, said last Tuesday that the ministerio publico and CICPC team was still on the way to the shabono, two days after Maldonado claimed they had visited it and found nothing. What stopped them filming interviews with people at Irothateri and demonstrating with a GPS exactly where they were filmed? At least that way there would be a possibility of checking whether the location matches known data for the community. And another thing: why did Maldonado say she knew nothing, in response to the first media reports of the story, when the army had already interviewed supposed witnesses and carried out some kind of inquiry? If the army kept the relevant cabinet ministers in the dark, that in itself needs investigating. If it didn’t, Maldonado is a liar.

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  4. It is difficult to imagine how there would be any record, formal or other, of the names of a remote settlement’s inhabitants. Furthermore, since one lot are saying that ‘investigators never got to the place in question’ and another, without claiming to have been there despite incursions by well-equipped search parties (who apparently just asked around ), claim there was no atrocity at all, some might arrive at the conclusion that none of them really know the precise map reference of the settlement in question, otherwise they could have helicoptered in. Surely?

    The other point that jumps out of the paper is why anybody would enage in such an outlay: missions with helicopters big enough to carry men enough to wipe out en entire settlement aren’t exactly walk-around money so what exactly would the putative perpetrators seeking to achieve?

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    • Some points worth bearing in mind: sources familiar with the area say you can’t helicopter in, because in order to land a helicopter you need first to clear a landing-pad. This (to me) raises the question: couldn’t they at least have had some soldiers rappel down from a hovering helicopter over the shabono? maybe someone can clarify that point. There certainly seems to be considerable doubt, even at this stage, as to whether investigators ever reached Irothateri, and the government (suspiciously in my view) has not gone out of its way to clarify that point. Also: numbers of supposed dead need to be treated with great caution. The Yanomami language contains no words for numbers greater than two. Three and above is just ‘many’. As for the issue of the cost of sending in a helicopter assault team in relation to the perceived benefit: bear in mind that the alleged perpetrators are wildcat gold-miners working for organised crime organisations. To them, the indians are an irritant. Conflict arises over their destruction of the environment and – often – over their sexual exploitation of Yanomami women. Ever since the first miners came into contact with the first indigenous communities there have been frequent instances of mass killings by the outsiders with the superior fire-power.

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  5. If it happened, it wouldn’t be the first massacre on Venezuelan soil where it is business as usual for those responsible, remote or not.

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  6. The government and even Chavez stated yesterday (September 6th) that there has no evidence been found of any deaths in the village concerned. Is that not good enough or are you all going to go down the road of saying tht the government is lying.

    Reuters reported that the Yanomami had been killed by gunfire from a helicopter. With no witnesses, no bodies and no forensic eveidence there was no massacre – just thrid hand rumors being publsihed as fact in BBC and Rueters to start.

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    • Maybe they’ll add these 80 to the two million deaths the government claims to have prevented via Barrio Adentro. Chavez lying? Whoever heard of such a thing!!

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    • There is no reason to take Chavez’s denial in preference to the original allegation by a respected native rights organization. So far, it’s certainly possible there was a massacre, but it hasn’t been proven to the degree necessary.

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    • And who is the ‘journalist’ responsible for this caricature of a report? turns out to be Rolando Segura of the Sistema Informativo de la Television Cubana (and latterly of Telesur’s outstanding Libya coverage). Yes indeedy: they sent a Cuban to cover the story. But not just any Cuban – a Cuban who learned everything he knows about hard-hitting investigative journalism, fearless reporting (and never being satisfied with an official explanation) under the tutelage of the Castro regime. Let’s look on the bright side: maybe none of the Venezuelan hacks they had available was willing to go along with falsifying the evidence. La esperanza es lo ultimo que se muere.

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  7. So who made the report of the alleged massacre? Remember two important points that complicate any investigation about dead Yanomami:
    -The Yanomami numbering system is: “one, two, many”
    -The Yanomami are forbidden from naming their dead

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    • Since when? Maybe he’s been quiet the past couple of days, I don’t know. But he was pretty noisy up to that point.

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