Illegal gold diggers
Indigenous people in need: Brazil takes action against gold diggers
An estimated 20,000 illegal gold diggers were recently in the Yanomami area. Ex-President Bolsonaro had supported mining in indigenous reserves. The invaders pollute the water and spread diseases. Now they are being expelled.
The need and misery of the indigenous Yanomami people have prompted Brazil’s government to take action against illegal gold mining in their area in the far north of the country.
The indigenous authority Funai, the environmental authority Ibama and the security forces subordinate to the Ministry of Justice were involved in the operation, as the Ibama announced on Wednesday. Accordingly, environmental officials destroyed equipment belonging to the gold diggers – including a tractor, helicopter and an airplane. Video footage of the operation released by Ibama shows an aircraft on fire near the rainforest.
In addition, several weapons and three boats with 5000 liters of fuel were secured. Suspected gold diggers, called garimpeiros, were said to have fled. In order to interrupt their supply and transport routes, a control station was set up on the Uraricoera River. In addition to petrol and diesel, the twelve-meter-long motorboats transported around a ton of food, freezers, generators and internet antennas. All supplies were therefore confiscated and should be used to supply the officials.
No boat with fuel and Garimpo equipment should pass the checkpoint in the direction of the gold digger pits, it said. Because the air force monitors the airspace over the Yanomami area, illegal gold diggers have been trying to leave the difficult-to-access area on foot or by boat for the past few days.
Yanomami area as big as Portugal
The territory of the Yanomami in the northern states of Roraima and Amazonas is about the size of Portugal at more than nine million hectares and one of the largest protected areas for indigenous peoples in Brazil. More than 30,000 Yanomami live there, who are also native to neighboring Venezuela. They became known worldwide through the struggle for the demarcation of their territory and against the Transamazônica road construction project since the 1970s.
Invaders have always posed a threat to the indigenous people, also because their immune systems are not armed against pathogens that have been introduced. The then President Fernando Collor de Mello also took measures to protect them in the early 1990s. A large part of the Garimpeiros then left the territory of the Yanomami.
Greenpeace complains about gold diggers
Most recently, an estimated 20,000 garimpeiros were again in the Yanomami area. After an overflight in December, the environmental organization Greenpeace complained about a 120-kilometer road that gold diggers had dug into the Amazon rainforest. The invaders use mercury to dissolve gold and pollute the water and soil – with fatal consequences for the Yanomami who make their living from farming, fishing and hunting. According to the Brazilian news agency Agência Brasil, 570 children from the ethnic group have died in recent years due to malnutrition. Since the end of January, more than 1,000 Yanomami with serious health problems such as malnutrition and malaria have been evacuated from the area and treated, according to the Ministry of Health.
The government of leftist President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva had previously declared a health emergency among the indigenous people. The federal police launched an investigation into suspected genocide and failure to provide assistance. Lula’s right-wing predecessor, Jair Bolsonaro, promoted the exploitation of the Amazon and also advocated gold mining among the indigenous people. Indigenous authorities and environmental agencies have been weakened, officials who took action against the Garimpo even dismissed. Lula da Silva has now announced a new policy.