Caracas, March 15, 2016 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuelan authorities found 18 bodies in a mine near the town of Tumeremo in Bolivar state on Monday, whom they identified as part of the 28 miners declared missing since March 4.
“We have concluded the search for the disappeared in Tumeremo with the finding of 18 bodies,” announced Venezuelan Attorney General Luisa Ortega Diaz via Twitter.
According to the top prosecutor, the bodies were located hanks to “14 witnesses” who led authorities to the site in the “Nuevo Callao” mine near the southeastern Venezuelan town.
The cadavers were uncovered in a “mass grave, wrapped in trash bags”, reported Tarek William Saab, the country’s chief ombudsman, who has been on the ground investigating the case.
While 18 of the bodies have currently been identified, authorities have found a total of 21 cadavers, a number which “could increase”.
The finding substantiates allegations of a massacre perpetrated by criminal groups who run illegal gold mining operations in the area.
On Saturday, the public prosecutor’s office issued a warrant for the arrest of a 44 year-old Ecuadorian national by the name of Andres Ulloa Suarez who they accuse of planning the massacre. Two other arrest warrants have also been issued.
Meanwhile, authorities are actively continuing the search for a Colombia-trained Ecuadorian paramilitary named Hendry Norberto Bonalde, alias “El Topo”, who is widely believed to lead criminal activities in the area.
Bolivar state Governor Francisco Rangel Gomez, for his part, pledged his government’s ongoing collaboration with the police investigation and promised that the case “will not go unpunished”.
The governor came under fire last week after initially dismissing the murder allegations as “false information” divulged by right-wing politicians “trying to sow chaos in Bolivar state”.
Speaking on national television, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro likewise vowed that those responsible will be brought to justice, including any state officials linked to the crime.
“If any state security body or any state official is involved, they are going to jail,” he warned.
In particular, Maduro accused local politicians of having links to the criminal groups responsible for the massacre.
“There are legislators and politicians from this region who are linked to the paramilitary gold [mining] mafias,” he stated.
Investigations in Tumeremo will continue as forensic experts work to identify the remaining bodies in a process that will be overseen by the nation’s top ombudsman.