Medical staff looking at man on gurney (© Nelson Almeida/AFP/Getty Images)
An indigenous man injured in clashes with Venezuelan soldiers in February arrives at a hospital in Brazil. (© Nelson Almeida/AFP/Getty Images)

Nicolás Maduro’s claim that indigenous Venezuelans are his allies is at odds with his regime’s treatment of them.

At a celebration of World Indigenous Day in Caracas, Venezuela, on August 9, Maduro said the indigenous peoples of Venezuela are in “active resistance” against efforts to isolate his regime. That view makes a mockery of the recent experience of the Pemon, an indigenous community of 30,000 people who live in a part of Venezuela that potentially holds great wealth.

The former Maduro regime, squeezed by sanctions and its own mismanagement of oil production, is desperate for revenue. In 2016, the regime launched the Orinoco Mining Arc Project to exploit more than 111,000 square kilometers of land in Venezuela’s middle belt that is believed to hold some of the world’s largest gold deposits as well as diamonds, coltan and bauxite.

Venezuelan soldiers acting on the regime’s orders, armed gangs and Colombian militants have created a lawless atmosphere of illegal mining and logging in the region, as a result of rampant corruption and the rule of law breaking down.

The Pemon have come under attack from the army and other armed groups as they attempt to defend their lands against illegal miners and loggers as well as against corrupt and brutal soldiers.

In February, government troops killed two Pemon and injured as many as 25 while sealing the border to prevent humanitarian aid coming in.

Since then, as many as 1,300 members of Venezuela’s Pemon community have fled across the border to Tarauparu village in Brazil, where other Pemons live, according to a U.N. Refugee Agency report.

“With the collapse of Venezuela’s economy and the resulting food and medicine shortages, crippling inflation and widespread social upheaval,” says the report, “it’s not clear when — or even if — the hundreds of Pemons who have found safety in Brazil will return to Venezuela.”