What happened at La Paragua and Maripa: Massacres or confrontations?

September 25, 2006

Friday when I heard former Causa R Presidential candidate Andres Velasquez, vehemently denounce a
by the Venezuelan military in a mining area in Bolivar state, I
decided that I had to mention it somehow, mostly because I have always respected
Velasquez and if he was making such a string statement, there had to be some
truth to the whole thing. Little did I know that the whole thing would escalate
so fast and that so far, the witnesses interviewed on TV have ratified
Velasquez’ statements.

The story
is confusing. The miners claim that military in helicopters rappelled down from
them and when they touched down, they started shooting. Two of the miners were
reportedly forced to kneel down and executed, while the survivors were told to
run and were shot dead. Reports are confusing. Velasquez first said there were five
dead, the Government then said there were four dead and now there are reports
that the bodies of two Indians have now been found in the town of Maripa, victims of a
separate military action about a day earlier. (The two towns are about 100
miles from each other). The inhabitants of Maripa burned down the house of the
Mayor and say about 100 miners escaped into the mountains, after the Army took
their gold food and instruments away.

Minister of Defense Baduel said that the deaths
in a confrontation between the military and the miners, when the military
tried to protect the environment. This version was denied
by the miners today, who noted that initially the Operational Theater #5 of the
Army even denied that they had been near the area and it was only when they
realized there was a witness that the story changed. There were
protests today
and Velasquez is now charging that the military tried to
cover up what they did. The inhabitants of the town of La Paragua have blocked all access to it and
are demanding the presence of Hugo Chavez himself “because it seems he has distances
himself from the realities of the country”. One of the leaders of the miners said
it was the Army that massacred the workers and said the new Russian helicopters
were used, saying that the statements by the Minister of Defense are simply

Meanwhile, the Governor of Bolivar state made
that agreed with those of the Minister of Defense saying that
the deaths occurred during a confrontation. Curiously, the timeline he gives
for the events disagrees with that of Andres Velasquez who on Saturday morning
was already warning of what happened and that the miners were ready to block
the town. Governor Rangel Gomez, a retired General, said that at noon on
Saturday they knew about the problem, while Velasquez had denounced it much
earlier, but apparently the military did not know there was a survivor. (Globovision
posted it at noon, but it was shown on TV much earlier)

After the silence on Sunday (except for Baduell’s quick
explanation that it was a confrontation after a denial that the Army had
anything to do with it), today, the Prosecutor, Chavez
and yes, belatedly
the People’s Ombudsman, who was too concerned about the problem the Minister of
Foreign Relations had at New York’s Kennedy airport and only said something
this afternoon after the miners
for his intervention.

to one of the miners
“there is a confrontation between the National Guard
and the Army for the control of the mines, which are a scholarship for them
with the extortions and the smuggling of gasoline, it would seems they are
fighting for the area”

Reportedly, the Army wants the miners to leave the area,
despite the fact that it is not the area covered under an older agreement to
protect the sources of rivers and brooks in the area. The miners decided to
march back to their town and were then attacked by the Army. Coincidentally, the same had happened in Maripa just hours earlier.

Curiously, in the middle of the day, the Prosecutor’s
office gave a press conference to
they would be charging an officer of the investigative police
for a massacre which took place 22 years ago in 1986, while this case, an apparent attempt at cover up,
involving murder and corruption, seems to be gathering a life of its own, as
Government officials contradict each other, even as they are trying to confirm
each other’s stories, which are changing as fast as the size of the story itself .

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