CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuelan authorities say they are investigating the killing of an Indigenous leader who denounced illegal mining in a remote part of the country close to the Amazon rainforest.
Virgilio Trujillo was shot to death June 30 in broad daylight in Puerto Ayacucho, a small border town that is the capital of the Venezuelan state of Amazonas.
Douglas Rico, head of the nation’s investigative police, said this week that a group of detectives was sent to the area to collect clues and conduct interrogations.
Rico wrote on Twitter that the Indigenous leader was possibly killed by one of the ilegal armed groups in the area that smuggle gold, drugs and other contraband along the porous border with Colombia.
Trujillo was a member of the Uwotujja ethnic group and founded an organization of unarmed environmental guards that monitored the activities of illegal miners on Indigenous territory.
The indigenous rights group Kape Kape said on its website that Trujillo had accompanied the Venezuelan military on patrols during which soldiers seized equipment from illegal miners and also destroyed landing strips used by drug traffickers.
Indigenous territories in Venezuela are under increasing pressure from illegal gold mining in Amazonas and also in a swath of territory along the Orinoco River that was designated by the Venezuelan government as a special development zone in 2016.
Miners who work in tandem with rebel groups have also moved into the Canaima National Park, which is covered by rainforest and is home to the world’s tallest waterfall.
According to the Observatory for the Defense of Life, a regional human rights group, 32 environmental leaders and Indigenous leaders have been slain in Venezuela since 2013.