Zoom Drives Contact Center Expansion with Acquisition of Solvvy

SAN JOSE, Calif. and BURLINGAME, Calif., May 12, 2022 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Zoom Video Communications, Inc. (NASDAQ: ZM) today announced it has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire Solvvy, a leading conversational AI and automation platform for customer support. Together, Zoom and Solvvy will offer elevated customer service experiences to a global enterprise base and work quickly to capitalize on new opportunities in contact center and customer support.

The recently launched Zoom Contact Center is the first omnichannel contact center platform optimized for video with a robust suite of channels, such as video, voice, SMS, and webchat, in a single, user–friendly experience. Adding Solvvy's proprietary technology will broaden Zoom Contact Center's offering with scalable self–service and conversational AI. With Solvvy, Zoom Contact Center customers will benefit from an automated, integrated, and easy–to–deploy contact center that helps answer end–customers' questions and solve issues faster, improves the overall customer experience, and drives operational savings.

"The nature of customer experience is transforming fundamentally, as enterprises increasingly need to deliver exceptional, personalized, and effortless customer experiences. Solvvy understands this shift and is the ideal platform to enhance our Zoom Contact Center offering," said Velchamy Sankarlingam, President of Product and Engineering at Zoom. "Solvvy's differentiated AI and machine learning technology, deeply talented team, and an easy–to–deploy solution will help accelerate our roadmap to creating a concierge–level experience for customers worldwide. Together, we are excited to help businesses of all sizes improve their customer retention, increase operating efficiency, and set new standards for customer service and satisfaction."

"Zoom is poised to redefine the contact center category with its unique combination of unified communication and customer experience. We could not be more excited to join forces and further scale our unique conversational AI offering," said Mahesh Ram, Chief Executive Officer and Co–Founder of Solvvy. "Zoom's Contact Center brings the same level of scalability, simplicity, and respect for the end–user, making Zoom the premier communications platform for businesses worldwide. When combined with our modern tech stack, talented team, and AI expertise, we believe we can fundamentally transform the customer experience. The benefits of Zoom's deep technical expertise, industry–leading platform, and global reach will further scale the impact we have on our customers and serve new ones."

Zoom Contact Center was born in the cloud and built for scale to support businesses of all types and sizes. More information about Zoom Contact Center can be found on the Zoom blog.

Following the close of the transaction, Zoom will incorporate and expand Solvvy's capabilities across its Zoom Contact Center platform. Solvvy Founding CEO Mahesh Ram and Co–Founder & CTO Justin Betteridge will be instrumental in driving the combined Advanced Conversational AI and Automation product vision and innovation strategy.

The transaction is expected to close in Q2 FY2023. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

About Zoom

Zoom is for you. Zoom is a space where you can connect to others, share ideas, make plans, and build toward a future limited only by your imagination. Our frictionless communications platform is the only one that started with video as its foundation, and we have set the standard for innovation ever since. That is why we are an intuitive, scalable, and secure choice for individuals, small businesses, and large enterprises alike. Founded in 2011, Zoom is publicly traded (NASDAQ: ZM) and headquartered in San Jose, California. Visit zoom.com and follow @zoom.

About Solvvy

Solvvy is the leading Conversational AI platform for customer support. Solvvy enables fast, personalized resolutions for customers, improves agent productivity, and uncovers valuable insights that empower support leaders and their teams. Our intelligent chatbot and automations have powered over a billion conversations for top brands such as HelloFresh, Vimeo, Under Armour, Stash, and Zwift, improving customer and agent experiences and driving massive operational savings. Solvvy has been recognized as a Gartner Cool Vendor and is a G2 Momentum Leader and Top Software 2022 award winner.

Forward–Looking Statements

This press release contains forward–looking information related to Zoom and Solvvy and the acquisition of Solvvy by Zoom that involves substantial risks, uncertainties and assumptions that could cause actual results to differ materially from those expressed or implied by such statements. Forward–looking statements in this communication include, among other things, statements regarding the potential benefits of the proposed transaction for Zoom, Solvvy and their respective customers, Zoom's plans, objectives, expectations and intentions with respect to the proposed transaction, the size of the opportunity for Zoom in contact centers, the financial condition, results of operations and business of Zoom, and the anticipated closing of the proposed transaction. In some cases, you can identify forward–looking statements by terms such as "anticipate," "believe," "estimate," "expect," "intend," "may," "might," "plan," "project," "will," "would," "should," "could," "can," "predict," "potential," "target," "explore," "continue," or the negative of these terms, and similar expressions intended to identify forward–looking statements. By their nature, these statements are subject to numerous uncertainties and risks, including factors beyond our control, that could cause actual results, performance or achievement to differ materially and adversely from those anticipated or implied in the statements, including: risks related to the ability of Zoom to consummate the proposed transaction on a timely basis or at all, Zoom's ability to successfully integrate Solvvy's operations and personnel, Zoom's ability to implement its plan, forecasts and other expectations with respect to Solvvy's business after the completion of the transaction, the ability to realize the anticipated benefits of the proposed transaction, and continued uncertainty regarding the extent and duration of the impact of COVID–19 and the responses of government and private industry thereto, including the potential effect on Zoom's user growth rate as the impact of the COVID–19 pandemic tapers. Additional risks and uncertainties that could cause actual outcomes and results to differ materially from those contemplated by the forward–looking statements described under the caption "Risk Factors" and elsewhere are in Zoom's most recent filings with the SEC, including its Annual Report on Form 10–K for the fiscal year ended January 31, 2022. Forward–looking statements speak only as of the date the statements are made and are based on information available to Zoom at the time those statements are made and/or management's good faith belief as of that time with respect to future events. Zoom assumes no obligation to update forward–looking statements to reflect events or circumstances after the date they were made, except as required by law.

Zoom Public Relations
Colleen Rodriguez
Head of Global PR

Solvvy Public Relations
Kristin Hege

Pakistan’s Campaign to Contain Polio in Face of Vaccine Hesitancy

Authorities in North Waziristan district in Pakistan, vaccinate children against polio. With one case reported, intensified efforts to eradicate the disease are underway. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Authorities in North Waziristan district in Pakistan, vaccinate children against polio. With one case reported, intensified efforts to eradicate the disease are underway. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, May 12 2022 – Pakistan’s North Waziristan district authorities have launched an aggressive vaccination drive after a polio case surfaced after 15 polio-free months in the country.

The disease was detected in a 15-month-old toddler about 15 kilometers away from the Afghanistan border. This area was considered a Taliban militant’s hub until 2014.

The Taliban were against polio vaccinations, but immunization drives restarted after the militants were evicted in 2014.

The boy’s family says he had been vaccinated.

“The boy has been vaccinated in every door-to-door polio vaccination campaign, but even then, he developed the crippling disease. We aren’t opposed to polio drops,” says Naheedullah, the toddler’s uncle. “We are religious people but never defied vaccination.”

However, the authorities dispute the family’s version and say the newly infected child hadn’t received oral polio vaccines (OPV) because his family was among those they call “silent refusals”.

“Silent refusals are those whose families argue that their children below five years have been inoculated, but they remain unvaccinated,” Dr Shamsur Rehman, a health official in the region, told IPS. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 18,349 children remain unvaccinated due to refusal by their families during the March 2022 campaign. This is down from 19,874 recorded in December 2021.

Vaccinators also face threats from the defiant parents – and as a result, often record the children as vaccinated to stay safe from reprisals. More than 50 people have been killed, allegedly by militants, since 2012 in various anti-polio drives, mainly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which remained a hotspot of the virus for many years, Pakistan’s oldest newspaper Dawn reported.

Religious scholar Muhammad Sami says polio vaccines aren’t allowed in Islam, and therefore, there is polio vaccine hesitancy. He said his group had “information” that the vaccination was a plot to “render the recipients incapable of producing children and cut down the population of the Muslims.”

However, others in the same area have a different opinion.

“We have been persuading parents to administer OPV to their kids as it is their religious responsibility to protect their offspring from diseases,” says Maulana Sagheer, adding that it was false information that the vaccines caused sterility and infertility.

Zulfiqar Babakhel, spokesperson for Pakistan Polio Programme, told IPS that the detection of this latest case of wild poliovirus wasn’t unexpected.  The Pakistan programme had anticipated this risk and put in place contingency plans to enable a rapid response, he said.

It continues to intensify its efforts to eradicate all remaining residual transmission of any strain of poliovirus.

“The ‘last mile’ has always proven to be the toughest phase of national eradication efforts in all countries. Although challenges remain, the programme is capitalizing on the momentum of recent success and continues to strive for zero-polio. This is the most critical time for the programme,” Babakhel said.

It is important to emphasize that the number of polio cases has been significantly reduced this year due to health workers’ unwavering commitment and communities’ and various stakeholders’ support, he said.

It is the third case of wild polio to be reported globally in 2022. Others were reported from Afghanistan and Malawi.

Pakistan had reported one case last year with onset on January 27, 2021, in Killa Abdullah district, Balochistan province.

Health Secretary Dr Aamir Ashraf told IPS that this was a tragedy for the child and his family. It is also regrettable both for Pakistan and polio eradication efforts worldwide.

“We are disappointed but stay undeterred. The case appeared in Southern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where the poliovirus was detected late last year and where an emergency action plan is already being implemented,” he says.

“The National and Provincial Polio Emergency Operations Centres have deployed teams to conduct a full investigation of the recent case, while emergency immunization campaigns are underway to prevent further spread of the wild poliovirus in Pakistan,” he says.

Repeated immunizations have protected millions of children from polio, allowing almost all countries to become polio-free, besides the two endemic countries of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The next sub-national Polio vaccination campaign, expected from 23 – 27 May 2022, will target over 24 million under-five children.

The polio programme had identified Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa as the area most at risk after wild poliovirus was detected in environmental samples in the last quarter of 2021.

“This validates the programme’s concerns about virus circulation in Southern KP and strengthens our resolve to reach every child with the polio vaccine,” said the National Emergency Operations Centre (NEOC) coordinator for polio, Dr Shahzad Baig.

To address the challenges in Southern KP, the Government and global polio partners had already initiated an emergency action plan to address the challenges in this part of the province, he explained.

In 2020, the province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa reported 22 cases, while no wild poliovirus cases were recorded in the area last year.

Substantial progress has been made recently, with most areas accessible to implement immunization campaigns, but deep-rooted problems and security concerns remain in a few places. Despite the challenges, the programme’s frontline workers continue to reach children with the life-saving vaccine.

The programme is capitalizing on the momentum gained last year and continues to strive for zero-polio. Parents must continue to vaccinate their children during every immunization round until they reach the age of five.

Pakistan remains one of only two countries globally with circulating wild poliovirus, together with Afghanistan. Polio is a highly infectious virus. Until this last epidemiological block wipes out polio, children worldwide remain at risk of life-long paralysis or fatality by the poliovirus.

IPS UN Bureau Report


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War and Famines – Warnings of Potential Outcomes of the War in Ukraine

By Jan Lundius
STOCKHOLM, May 12 2022 – An entirely unnecessary and all too tangible nightmare continues to scourge Ukraine. Without doubt, one catastrophe after another still awaits. Much of Ukraine’s harvest, of paramount importance to global food supply, is at risk of being lost due to Vladimir Putin’s and the Russian army’s belligerent actions. Last year, Ukraine harvested a record of 106 million tonnes of grain – 25, or even 50 percent of this amount is currently feared to be lost during this year while most experts add that “this is an optimistic forecast.”

This would not be the first time Ukraine, The World’s Breadbasket, suffers from grain shortages and the threat of famine. Considering the current war it might be reminded that famines are “man-made disasters”, equivalent to the Chinese term renhuo, which in January 1962 during a “cadre-meeting” was used by The Communist Party of China’s Vice Chairman, Liu Shaoqi, to describe the disastrous results of China’s Great Leap Forward, which planning and execution he had participated in. Between 1958 and 1962, in a misapplied effort to increase industrial and agricultural production, the Chinese Government became responsible for working, beating and above all starving forty-five million Chinese people to death.

Several years ago, a good friend of mine, Hussein Rahman, told me it is not accurate to blame mass starvation on poor harvests. Hussein is quite knowledgeable. He was awarded his Ph.D. from the Dijon University after researching a high yielding variety of rice. Afterwards he worked for 15 years for the World Food Programme (WFP) and was then posted in Lesotho, Angola, Comoro Islands, Ethiopia, and Yemen. During his last years with the UN, Hussein was during ongoing wars active in Somalia and Iraq, working for The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Hussein was convinced that famines are a political issue. There are no examples of mass starvation affecting democratic societies.

While studying at Dijon University, Hussein was inspired by Amartya Sen’s book Poverty and Famines, in which Sen analysed what he as a nine-year-old boy in 1943 had seen in Bengal – how people succumbing to acute starvation lay dead in the streets. More than three million individuals died from this devastating famine.

Amartya Sen proves that despite crop failures, there was in 1943 an adequate food supply in Bengal, though extensive rice export, panic purchase, hoarding, military food storage and an economic boom caused food prices to rise and it was mainly landless rural workers and the urban proletariat, whose wages had not followed the development, who were unable to obtain enough food. Bengali food production was admittedly lower than it had been the previous year, though more abundant than it had been in the years before that, when no famine had occurred.

Later studies of the Bengal famine have proven Sen right in his conclusion that famines are created by humans and accordingly can be prevented, or at least mitigated. Archival studies have evidenced that Winston Churchill’s war cabinet in remote London had been repeatedly warned that a famine was brewing in India. At an early stage, the British Government was well aware of the fact that an excessive export of rice was likely to lead to a lethal famine, but it nevertheless chose to continue exporting undiminished quantities of rice from its Indian colonies to other parts of the Empire.

London turned a deaf ear when Indians demanded a promised million tonnes of wheat in return for the exported rice. The warlords stood leaning over their maps and with a cigar in his mouth Churchill observed that the reason for the famine was actually that Indians bred like rabbits and jokingly wondered if the rice shortage was so immense – how come that Gandhi was still alive? The War was at the centre of these men’s concerns and in order to prevent the Japanese enemy, who was approaching Bengal from Burma, from obtaining necessary food supplies, huge quantities of rice were brought away from the border areas, while thousands of boats were confiscated.

At the thought of Churchill and his associates leaning over their maps predicting and planning how the War would unfold, Requiem, a poem by Anna Akhmatova comes to mind. Akhmatova, was born in Ukrainian Odessa and had during World War II survived the German siege and starvation of Leningrad, her two husbands had been executed by the Soviet regime and her only son spent more than ten years in Stalin’s Gulag camps. In her poem Akhmatova writes about the immense suffering behind figures, abstract data, figures and statistics. One of the Requiem’s stanzas reads:

I would like to call you all by name,
but the list has been removed
and there’s nowhere else to look.
I have woven you a shroud,
from poor words I overheard.
I will remember you, everywhere.
I will not forget you,
not even among new sorrows.

The chilly attention rulers show to maps and statistics, or during gatherings around computers, does seldom acknowledge the immense human suffering caused by their fateful decisions.

According to Amartya Sen it is the inability of those in power, or even worse – their reluctance to act in the public interest by guaranteeing freedom for food producers, which cause mass starvation. Amartya Sen writes about an urgent need for a ”new human psychology”, by taking into account how

    “…politics and psychology affect each other. People can indeed be expected to resist political barbarism if they instinctively react against atrocities. We have to be able to react spontaneously and resist inhumanity whenever it occurs. If this is to happen, the individual and social opportunities for developing and exercising moral imagination have to be expanded.”

Fatal hunger is among the most degrading suffering affecting any human being. Paralysing starvation does not lead to rebellion. People plagued by an all-consuming hunger are forced into an animalistic, instinctive, all-encompassing quest for survival. During a famine, people experience months of indescribable suffering, weakened by hunger pangs that might lead to insanity, paralysis, and eventually death. Due to food shortage, entire social systems break down through a lack of morals, ”decency”, and compassion. Crime, violence, and emotional insensitivity spread throughout the social body, becoming replaced by a ruthless struggle of all against all. A desperate battle for your own survival.

Inside the Gulag and the killing fields of the Stalin era, as well as in the Nazi death camps and German occupied territories, starvation reigned, paired with freezing cold, mistreatment and general vulnerability. Even if not every hunger victim passed through the torment of famish and mistreatment, as if they had become animals, they all suffered from hopelessness, which in addition to physical pain forced them into shame and despair. It is not without reason that cynical rulers might consider hunger to be an effective means of crushing their enemies, bringing reluctant subordinates to their knees by pacifying and paralysing them through hunger and despair. Hunger is a weapon for the powerful and a bottomless shame for the destitute.

In 1928, the Stalinist regime introduced its first Five Year Plan, intended to force peasants to become workers mobilized for massive industrial production, or becoming engaged in a “more efficient, modern agriculture” in the form of kolkhozy (if they were cooperative-run collectives) or sovkhozy (if they were state-run), while people branded as “reactionaries, saboteurs and spies” were purged, exterminated and/or “rendered harmless.” The same thing which happened in China twenty years later.

The estimated figure for Ukrainian deaths during the Holodomor (1932-1933) is 3.3 million, while at the same time 67,297 individuals died of starvation in the labour camps and 241,355 in the settlements to which peoples reluctant to join collectives had been deported together with their families. Thousands died during travels to destinations in distant Siberia, or Kazakhstan.

When we hear about the famines and wars that continue to harass a great part of the world’s population, let us not forget that they are renhuo, man-made. Behind the statistics are suffering individuals – men, women and children – while the guilty ones, leaders watching computers and calculating gains and losses while replacing people with figures, are quite easy to identify and hold accountable for their pernicious actions.

Sources: Applebaum, Anne (2017) Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine. London: Penguin Books. Dikötter, Frank (2011) Mao’s Great Famine. London: Bloomsbury.

IPS UN Bureau


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Projections for a Pandemic Future: in Whose Interest?

The World Health Assembly (22-28 May) is expected to discuss the pandemic treaty.Credit: World Health Organization (WHO)

By Nicoletta Dentico
ROME, May 12 2022 – In what has been defined a historic consensus decision aimed at protecting the world from future infectious diseases crises, on 1st December 2021, the special session of the World Health Assembly agreed to kickstart a global process to draft and negotiate a convention, agreement or other international instrument to strengthen pandemic prevention, preparedness and response.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General, the decision marked “a once-in-a-generation opportunity to strengthen the global health architecture to protect and promote the well-being of all people”.

The process officially started with the constitution of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Body (INB), whose task is weaving the texture of the negotiation, based on a treaty working draft, by 1st August 2022. The INB is mandated to submit the outcome of its work for consideration by the 77th World Health Assembly in 2024.

The WHO does not have a consolidated experience in exercising its binding normative power, having used it only twice in seventy-four years. Well before the pandemic, the health agenda negotiated at the WHO had propelled experts and civil society organizations to call for hard rules to replace voluntary regimes, insufficient to address escalating challenges and expanding determinants, which now include trade rules, environment, digitalization.

On the other hand, as illustrated in the Geneva Global Health Hub (G2H2) report on the genesis of the pandemic treaty, there are piercing geopolitical issues that require scrupulous mapping of reality and a questioning attitude, now that the international community is projecting itself towards a pandemic future.

Does the world need a new pandemic treaty?

After months of debates in the WHO Working Group on Pandemic Preparedness and Response (WGPR), there remains a lack of deep contextual evidence on the problems that the new instrument could and should help solve.

There is not even an official definition of what a pandemic is in legal terms. COVID-19 has not been the only pandemic raging the world – global cancer figures are staggering and doomed to grow due to the effects of COVID and climate change.

Other existing pandemics (like antimicrobial resistance) are not exclusively triggered by zoonotic events – most of which are caused by wildlife trading, alongside nature loss, industrialized livestock production and habitat destruction. Shouldn’t binding measures to prevent and respond to such crises address the widespread destruction of ecosystems, instead?

Pandemics are neither a destiny nor a natural phenomenon. The WHO Independent Panel on Pandemic Preparedness and Response report explains that they are the undesirable result of multiple governance failures, starting from lack of international cooperation.

This unfortunate conjuncture should be understood, yet to date, there is no comprehensive analysis of the reasons why governments did not comply with the existing WHO binding legal framework designed to face health emergencies: the International Health Regulations (IHR), last reviewed in 2005 (after SARS).

IHR obligations should have guided countries to engage in sharing information and cooperating for contrasting SARS-CoV-2 unknown and aggressive contagion. What went wrong? It may be that IHR are prominently skewed towards prevention and detection of pathogens, and limited on response steps to prevent transmissions.

But couldn’t they be seriously revised and updated, as in the past, to include the new contents deriving from COVID-19’s unprecedented lessons instead of a push for a new treaty?

The WHO Emergency Committee and alarm system must be reformed, along with the strengthening of the legal obligations and compliance of cooperation rules: this is the terrain where most IHR violations have occurred.

One Health approaches surely need integrating in the negotiated review, to build a better prevention and response capacity on the harsh lessons of COVID-19. A clear uncompromising priority assigned to sustainably financing universal public health systems and their workforce, as the reliable safeguard for societies when outbreak emerge, must supplant persisting policies skewed to health privatization and financialization, too uncritically promoted by the WHO. Existing IHR provisions need updating and strengthening to this end.

Ultimately, the critical tension between global health security requirements and the management of existing science must be resolved in the interest of public health rather than private profits – COVID-19 makes it very clear that it’s not an easy game.

Meanwhile, things are being made more complicated. Now that the pandemic treaty negotiations are being led by the INB, in parallel to the IHR review led by the US, new layers of diplomatic intricacies are surfacing in terms of content and process overlaps, ushering dwindling expectations.

The lack of a shared vision is matched by the accelerated pace of the INB negotiation, for which governments are not ready – uneasiness emerged in recent European consultations on the treaty elements that were to be provided by 29th April.

Both the WHO and the INB claim to be looking at the precedents of the WHO’s only other treaty as guidepost, the breakthrough Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), while civil society organizations have been instrumental in paving the way to the FCTC and challenging the playbook of the tobacco industry, they now sit at the very margins of the diplomatic process, advocating in the paucity of spaces and restrictions of time allowed in the first round of public hearings.

Thanks to the FCTC’s long negotiations involving broad and consistent civil society participation, the WHO first global health treaty has strict provisions and guidelines on conflicts of interest.

Twenty years later, the fact that macroeconomic forces have been allowed to shape a new political platform for global governance through multistakeholderism, it does not necessarily favor the best scenario for pandemic treaty-making.

The WHO is weakened and under-resourced, while the corporate sectors that have profited from the pandemic in terms of market dominance – pharma companies, big tech, etc. – seemingly support this new negotiation, deemed to institutionalize the super public and private partnerships assembled in 2020 by major philanthropic actors for COVID-19 response.

Governments for their part are still grappling with the pandemic and its turbulent socio-economic effects. Meanwhile, exactly like one century ago, the pandemic tsunami gets tangled with a war of international proportions doomed to transform the world and the international community.

The tang of the Russian invasion of Ukraine is starting to poison Geneva’s health circles. This is not a good foreboding.

IPS UN Bureau


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The writer is Director, Global Health Justice Program, Society for International Development (SID), and Co-chair Geneva Global Health Hub (G2H2).

Mining Destroys the Lives of Indigenous People in Venezuela

Children and adolescents in a Yanomami community in Parima, on the southern border with Brazil, the area where four indigenous people were shot dead and others injured when they confronted military troops last March. CREDIT: Wataniba

Children and adolescents in a Yanomami community in Parima, on the southern border with Brazil, the area where four indigenous people were shot dead and others injured when they confronted military troops last March. CREDIT: Wataniba

By Humberto Márquez
CARACAS, May 12 2022 – The voracious search for gold in southern Venezuela, practiced by thousands of illegal miners under the protection of various armed groups, represents the greatest threat today to the lives of indigenous peoples, their habitat and their cultures, according to their organizations and human rights defenders.

In this part of the Amazon jungle, “mining, violence, habitat destruction, death from disease and forced migration make up a context that indigenous people are calling a silent genocide,” researcher Aimé Tillet, who has worked in the area for many years, told IPS.

At the other end of the country, along the northwest border with Colombia, indigenous people are fighting for the delimitation of their territories, which has led to clashes and deaths in their attempts to recover ancestral lands, while they are often reduced to destitution.

There are common features of life in border regions that are home to indigenous peoples, such as neglect by the government, which fails to fulfill its duties in health, education, security, provision of food, fuel and transportation, supplies, communications and consultations with native peoples regarding the use of their land and resources.

The government foments mining activity and in 2016 decreed the “Orinoco Mining Arc” on the right bank of the Orinoco river – an area of 111,844 square kilometers, larger than Bulgaria, Cuba or Portugal.

In parallel, it established an armed forces company, Camimpeg, to spearhead the mining of gold, diamonds, coltan and other conventional and rare minerals, in which the country is rich.

Opacity is a stain on the management of military companies by the authorities, according to non-governmental organizations such as Citizen Control for Security and Defense.

The local press has reported on the involvement of military and police units in the region in incidents related to mining activity that have sparked protests by indigenous people and human rights activists, ranging from deaths of native people in altercations to massacres in which “unknown groups” have killed dozens of people.

Artisanal and illegal mining, in hundreds of deforested areas and along rivers contaminated with mercury used to extract gold from ore, are often controlled by criminal gangs that call themselves “syndicates” and that traffic in gold and supplies, as well as in people who work in the mines, who are often subjected to forced labor.

According to human rights groups, for some years now another danger has been Colombian guerrillas, particularly the National Liberation Army (ELN), which is involved in mining and other illegal activities in the southern state of Amazonas, as well as dissidents of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which laid down its arms under a 2016 peace deal.

In the Sierra de Perijá mountains, home to three native peoples and part of the northern border between Colombia and Venezuela, the ELN has made inroads into indigenous communities, setting up camps, collecting “vacunas” – taxes or protection payment – from cattle ranchers, overseeing cattle smuggling and recruiting young people as guerrilla fighters.

A map showing the areas that are home to the main indigenous peoples of Venezuela, according to the governmental Simón Bolívar Geographic Institute. The most numerous groups are in the extreme northwest, south and east of the country. CREDIT: IGVSB

A map showing the areas that are home to the main indigenous peoples of Venezuela, according to the governmental Simón Bolívar Geographic Institute. The most numerous groups are in the extreme northwest, south and east of the country. CREDIT: IGVSB

Shots in the jungle

On Mar. 20, four Yanomami Indians were shot and killed in the Sierra de Parima mountains that mark the border with Brazil in the extreme south, by Venezuelan Air Force troops after an altercation over the internet signal and a router shared by the military and members of a native community.

The Yanomami, who have lived in the jungles of southern Venezuela and northern Brazil for thousands of years – considered a living testimony to the Neolithic era who only came into contact with the rest of the world a few decades ago – have found mobile telephones a useful means of communication in their widely dispersed communities.

What happened in Parima “cannot be taken as an isolated reaction, but must be seen as the result of an accumulation of tensions and abuses, of a lack of a differentiated treatment based on the right to positive discrimination,” declared Wataniba, an organization supporting the indigenous peoples of Venezuela’s Amazon region, at the time.

“All these tensions that are experienced daily on the borders are a consequence of extractivism, coupled with abuses of power by the military, transculturation and the lack of concrete actions by the State to meet the basic needs of indigenous peoples,” the organization added.

Hundreds of informal and illegal gold mines deforest land, damage the soil, pollute the water with mercury and exploit indigenous and other workers under forms of modern slavery in Venezuela’s Amazon rainforest. CREDIT: RAISG

Hundreds of informal and illegal gold mines deforest land, damage the soil, pollute the water with mercury and exploit indigenous and other workers under forms of modern slavery in Venezuela’s Amazon rainforest. CREDIT: RAISG

Undeterrable garimpeiros

In 1989, a decree law by then President Carlos Andrés Pérez (1922-2010, who governed the country from 1974-1979 and 1989-1993) banned for 50 years all mining activity in the state of Amazonas in the extreme south of the country, an area of 178,000 square kilometers of jungle with fragile soils, home to 200,000 inhabitants, more than half of them members of 20 indigenous peoples.

For decades, however, thousands of garimpeiros – the Brazilian name for informal gold prospectors, who originally came from Brazil – have made incursions into Amazonas, and in recent years on a larger scale, using airstrips and a large number of motor pumps, and imposing relations, sometimes involving trade but above all exploitation, with indigenous communities and individuals.

On Jul. 28, 2021, the Kuyujani and Kuduno indigenous organizations, as well as the Tuduma Saka court of justice of the Sanemá ethnic group (Yanomami branch) and their Ye’kuana (Carib) neighbors, denounced the presence of garimpeiros in four communities, in documents delivered to the governmental Ombudsman’s Office.

More than 400 armed garimpeiros, according to the complaint, were working with 30 machines extracting precious minerals in the Upper Orinoco area, forcing men and boys to work in mining, and enslaving and forcing women into prostitution.

The report added that the destruction of the forests has also affected the vegetable gardens of local indigenous communities, which have become dependent on food supplies from the garimpeiros.

Tillet said the incursion of guerrillas and illegal miners in the south also creates hotbeds of inter-ethnic conflict, because some indigenous people and communities desperate to find a means of survival accept the miners, while others (such as the Uwottija or Piaroas of the middle Orinoco) strongly oppose such incursions.

A view of the damage caused by uncontrolled mining in an area of southern Venezuela. CREDIT: SOS Orinoco/RAISG

A view of the damage caused by uncontrolled mining in an area of southern Venezuela. CREDIT: SOS Orinoco/RAISG

Modern-day slavery

In the “currutelas” or mining villages, young men and boys work extracting gold-rich sands, while women are employed to cook, sweep, wash and clean the camps, and are exploited sexually.

This situation, seen in the hundreds of mining camps in Amazonas and the southeastern state of Bolívar, which covers some 238,000 square kilometers, is aggravated in the case of indigenous peoples, lawyer Eduardo Trujillo, director of the Andrés Bello Catholic University’s Human Rights Center, which is conducting several studies in the area, told IPS.

“Under the control of armed groups, dynamics of violence are generated, with confrontations and deaths, and conditions of modern-day slavery, where omission translates into acquiescence on the part of the Venezuelan State,” Trujillo added.

In particular, indigenous women recruited to work in the camps “are caught up in a dynamic of violence: their work is not voluntary, sometimes they are not paid, and they are subjected to risks to their health and lives,” he said.

Mining in Venezuela contributes to the figures of the International Labor Organization (ILO), according to which more than 40 million people around the world are victims of modern-day slavery, 152 million are victims of child labor and 25 million are forced laborers.

Autana hill, seen from the banks of the Cuao River, a tributary of the middle Orinoco. The Uwottija people consider it sacred and reject the presence in the area of guerrilla groups from Colombia, associated with illegal mining. CREDIT: Humberto Márquez / IPS

Autana hill, seen from the banks of the Cuao River, a tributary of the middle Orinoco. The Uwottija people consider it sacred and reject the presence in the area of guerrilla groups from Colombia, associated with illegal mining. CREDIT: Humberto Márquez / IPS

Adios habitat, culture and life

According to the 2011 census, at least 720,000 of Venezuela’s 28 million inhabitants are indigenous, belonging to some 40 native peoples, and close to half a million live in rural indigenous areas, mainly in border regions.

Although the largest indigenous group (60 percent) is the Wayúu, an Arawak-speaking people who live on the Colombian-Venezuelan Guajira peninsula in the north, most of the native peoples are in the south of the country. Some groups have thousands of members but others only a few hundred, and their languages and ancestral knowledge are at risk of dying out.

The environmental organization Provita reports that 380,000 hectares have been deforested south of the Orinoco in the last 20 years, while the area dedicated to mining increased from 18,500 to 55,000 hectares between 2000 and 2020.

Riverbanks and headwaters have been especially affected, many in areas theoretically protected as national parks. Tillet stressed that, in addition to the environmental damage they suffer, these are areas of limited resources for subsistence, for which indigenous communities and miners are now competing.

“Because they depend on mining for an income, indigenous people are forced to abandon their traditional activities of planting, fishing and hunting, their diet deteriorates, malnutrition and diseases such as malaria increase, and they are forced to say goodbye to their land, to move and migrate,” said Tillet.

The researcher said that health services, which are the responsibility of the State, have practically disappeared, and even more so during the COVID-19 pandemic, while education has collapsed as teachers move away and migrate, with the result that “children who should be in school now work in exploitative conditions in the mines.”

In the document they presented to the Ombudsman’s Office, the Yanomami and Ye’kuana organizations said they were victims of selective killings, contamination of water with mercury, contagion from diseases and, in short, “a silent cultural genocide.”

Children from a Uwottija (Piaroa) community in the middle Orinoco region, where organizations of this native people reject the presence of guerrilla groups from neighboring Colombia, associated with illegal mining. CREDIT: Humberto Márquez / IPS

Children from a Uwottija (Piaroa) community in the middle Orinoco region, where organizations of this native people reject the presence of guerrilla groups from neighboring Colombia, associated with illegal mining. CREDIT: Humberto Márquez / IPS

Territory, an elusive right

The current constitution, adopted in 1999, recognized the right of indigenous peoples to conserve their cultures and possess their ancestral territories, and provided for the expeditious demarcation of these areas – which has only happened for a small part of their territories.

In the case of the state of Amazonas, which is almost entirely the habitat of indigenous people, the demarcation process has been ignored, preventing indigenous peoples from laying claim to their rights, demanding the required consultation processes and consent for the exploitation of their territory, and eventually obtaining benefits from their land.

Tillet said that “demarcation is still a pending issue, for which there is no political will, but the avalanche of mining has relativized its importance, because if protected areas such as national parks or natural monuments are violated by mining, you can imagine that the same thing is true for indigenous territories.”

Examples are the 30,000-square-kilometer Canaima National Park in the southeast, rich in tepuis – steep, flat-topped mountains – and large waterfalls, and the 3,200-square-kilometer Yapacana, in the middle of Amazonas state, where mining is practiced while the authorities turn a blind eye.

On the other hand, in the northwest, the struggle for land of the Yukpa people in the center of the Sierra de Perijá continues, with episodes of violence. Like their neighbors, the Barí of Chibcha origin, and the Wayúu, they are a bi-national people, although with more members of the community on the Venezuelan side than in Colombia.

The crux of the conflict is that throughout the 20th century the indigenous people were pushed into the most inhospitable lands in the mountains, while the plains, on the western shore of Lake Maracaibo, were occupied by cattle ranchers.

Some communities have accepted plots of land – the least fertile areas – granted by the government. But a resistant group of Yukpa, led by chief Sabino Romero until he was murdered in 2013, lays claim to land occupied by cattle ranches, while combating incursions by smugglers and guerrillas in the mountains.

Sabino Romero, a Yukpa chief from the Sierra de Perijá mountains bordering Colombia, was killed in 2013 in the context of his people's struggle to recover lands occupied by cattle ranchers throughout the 20th century. CREDIT: Homo et Natura Society

Sabino Romero, a Yukpa chief from the Sierra de Perijá mountains bordering Colombia, was killed in 2013 in the context of his people’s struggle to recover lands occupied by cattle ranchers throughout the 20th century. CREDIT: Homo et Natura Society

“Other members of Sabino’s family and followers of his have been killed over the years and have endured attacks by hired killers and employees of cattle ranchers, and even by the National Guard (militarized police) or the ELN,” Lusbi Portillo, leader of the environmental Homo et Natura Society, told IPS.

Ana María Fernández, a Yukpa activist in the area, said that “we are not only fighting against large landowners, police forces and the National Guard, and the State, which does not allow the demarcation of our lands. We are also attacked by Colombian guerrillas and hired killers contracted by ranchers.”

On the other hand, some Yukpa indigenous people sometimes seize cattle as a way to collect on the damages inflicted on them. Others, less combative, “charge a right of way on what used to be their lands, to earn some money to eat and survive,” said Portillo.

The activist said that one alternative is for the State to fulfill its commitments to compensate cattle ranchers whose farms must be returned to the indigenous people, and to make good on its duty to provide transportation routes for the communities’ agricultural production and health care in the face of the increase in diseases.

Ana María Fernández is an activist from a Yukpa community that is demanding the demarcation of their ancestral territories in the western Sierra de Perijá, where the best lands were occupied by cattle ranches throughout the 20th century. CREDIT: OEPV

Ana María Fernández is an activist from a Yukpa community that is demanding the demarcation of their ancestral territories in the western Sierra de Perijá, where the best lands were occupied by cattle ranches throughout the 20th century. CREDIT: OEPV

Time to migrate

The crisis of the second decade of this century in Venezuela has forced thousands of indigenous people to migrate, as part of the diaspora of six million Venezuelans who have left the country since 2014, overwhelmingly heading to neighboring Latin American and Caribbean countries, the United States and Spain.

The largest group is the Warao, a people living in the northeastern Orinoco delta, whose southern zone is affected by mining and logging activities, and who have gone mostly to Brazil, but also to Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago.

The Warao “number less than 50,000, and the migration of at least 6,000, more than 10 percent of them, is a decrease in numbers that speaks volumes about the human rights situation of this population. In northern Brazil there are some 5,000, and Brazil already considers them to be a distinct, nomadic indigenous people in its territory,” Tillet commented.

Pablo Tapo, a member of the Baré people and coordinator of the Amazon Indigenous Human Rights Movement, compiled a report according to which more than 4,500 indigenous people from nine ethnic groups in his region crossed the border into Colombia in three years.

In both cities and rural areas, “communities are left on their own because there is no attention or services, in outpatient hospitals there are no doctors, medicines or supplies, and there is no food security,” said Tapo.

In the southwestern plains state of Apure, the armed confrontation that months ago involved Colombian guerrillas and Venezuelan military forced the flight to Colombia of indigenous groups living on the Venezuelan side of the Meta River.

In the extreme southeast, next to Brazil, the Pemón people have suffered from the drop in tourism due to the insecurity associated with mining and the pandemic, which has created an incentive to migrate. And in the northwest, for peoples such as the Wayúu, continuously crossing the border is an ageold practice that has never changed.

At the center of the indigenous people’s plight is mining, particularly the insatiable craving for gold, of which, according to a study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), this country can produce some 75 tons per year, although actual extraction, both legal and clandestine, is possibly half that.