The families of 28 miners who disappeared and are presumed dead have blocked one of the main roads connecting the state of Bolivar with Brazil, to protest the alleged killings.
According to local media, the miners were killed and their bodies cut up with a chainsaw at a gold mine in Tumeremo, Bolivar, between Friday night and Saturday morning. Their remains have not been found.
A doctor working at the José Gregorio Hernández Hospital in Tumeremo witnessed miners who had managed to escape from the massacre on Friday: “A number of miners who were shot, stabbed, bludgeoned, and had managed to escape the slaughter, came,” he told the BBC.
“The bodies of the dead never reached the morgue, it seems that they were thrown in mass graves.”
According to the Public Ministry, Venezuela’s prosecutor’s office is investigating the incident, interviewing relatives of the miners to ascertain the circumstances around the disappearances.
However, the governor of Bolivar, Francisco Rangel Gómez, has denied a massacre took place, referring to the fact that no bodies have yet been found despite a three-day search.
According to El Estímulo, the miners were celebrating the discovery of a gold deposit. During the festivities, in the early hours of Saturday morning, there was a clash between those who had discovered the mine and a criminal gang led by a man known as ‘El Topo’. Legislator Ameríco de Grazía has reported that the miners were killed in the confrontation and thereafter disappeared. He claims that they were transported by truck to an unknown destination by orders from El Topo.
In a tweet the legislator compares the incident to the 2014 disappearance of 43 students in Mexico, with reference to the Governor Rangel Gómez’s denial of the incident.
Recuerda la masacre de los 43 estudiantes en México/Ayotzinapa,cuando el Gobernador negó la masacre?y luego se determinó su responsabilidad?
— Americo De Grazia (@AmericoDeGrazia) 6. marts 2016
The incident occurred two weeks after the Venezuelan government initiated the ‘Arco Minero del Orinoco’, a project that aims to regulate mining activities in the area, among other things.
According to official estimates, Bolivar has the second largest gold reserves in the world. But illegal mining in Bolivar has risen drastically in recent years because of increased mineral prices and the economic crisis, but also partly with the consolidation of armed gangs, the BBC reports.
The NGO Venezuela Violence Watchdog (Observatorio Venezolano de Violencia) estimates that Bolivar is one of the states with the most homicides in the country.