TUMEREMO, Venezuela (Reuters) - Seven people were killed near a remote gold mine in southeastern Venezuela, family members said on Wednesday, the latest in a number of violent incidents related to illegal mining in the crisis-stricken country.
A military expedition found the bodies near a remote jungle mine some four hours by car from the town of Tumeremo, said 10 family members, who believe the incident was the result of a struggle between armed groups for control of the area.
Neither Venezuela’s Information Ministry nor the state prosecutor’s office responded to requests for comment.
Reuters was unable to obtain comment from officials at the Tarabay military base, where the bodies were taken.
“My daughter had bruises on her face, they had kidnapped her and later shot her in the head,” said Nassif Suliman, 57, who traveled with the military expedition to recover the body of his 22-year-old daughter, Adela.
He arrived at the military base with a coffin for her burial.
The family members said the murders took place on Sunday and that they found out on Monday because some of the people at the mine managed to escape.
Other residents of Tumeremo said they worried that the violence that killed the seven people may have taken the lives of others working nearby, and staged a protest outside the military base demanding additional searches.
“My brother had an operation for the stomach cancer three months ago, they took out half his stomach and he still went out to the mines to work,” said Jose Vera, 45, choking back tears.
“They kill us like they kill pigs,” said Vera, a miner who was seeking information about his brother, father and nephew.
Venezuelans have increasingly taken to informal gold mining as the country’s socialist economy unravels and hyperinflation leaves millions of people struggling to afford basic food items in the once-booming OPEC nation.
The growth of wildcat mining has growing criticism over gang violence, deforestation and environmental contamination from the use of toxic chemicals in the process.
Soldiers killed 18 people in a clash with illegal miners in Bolivar in February, while a gang feud there in 2016 left at least 17 dead.
President Nicolas Maduro has said that his government is developing mining as an alternative source of revenue for the oil-dependent economy, which is in its fifth year of recession and suffering drastic shortages of food, medicine and other basic goods.
Reporting by Maria Ramirez in Tumeremo; Writing by Luc Cohen and Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Leslie Adler