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Brazil’s government launches major operation to evict miners from Yanomami territory

A camp belonging to illegal miners burns in the Yanomami territory, after Ibama agents destroy it. © Ibama

Authorities in Brazil have launched a major operation to remove thousands of illegal goldminers from the Yanomami territory in the north of the country.

Agents from the Environmental Protection Agency IBAMA and Indigenous Affairs Department FUNAI are involved, alongside the National Public Security Force.

The miners have devastated the territory, terrorized Yanomami communities, and caused a catastrophic health crisis so severe President Lula has called it “a genocide.” Hundreds of Yanomami, especially children, have died from preventable diseases and malnutrition. Illegal airstrips and even a road have been constructed, and thousands of mines scar the landscape.

A camp belonging to illegal miners burns in the Yanomami territory, after Ibama agents destroy it. © Ibama

Former President Bolsonaro actively encouraged the invasion. Under his administration the number of miners rocketed, and criminal gangs took over much of the illegal gold trade in the area. Miners even reached areas of forest inhabited by uncontacted Yanomami people.

Davi Kopenawa Yanomami, renowned leader and President of the Yanomami organization Hutukara said: “I’m tired of hearing the crying and weeping of Yanomami mothers and fathers who have lost their children. It’s not the fault of the Yanomami that their children are dying. We Yanomami are human beings but Bolsonaro destroyed our health and our land. This is a crime happening in my “house.” The most important thing we need alongside urgent health care is maximum and permanent protection for our land, especially in the frontier areas and where the Moxihatetea [uncontacted Yanomami] live. This must never happen again.”

Illegal miners are being removed from the Yanomami Indigenous Territory by Ibama agents and others. © Força Nacional Brasileira

Survival International has been campaigning alongside the Yanomami for 53 years, demanding protection of their land. The organization, and Yanomami organizations like Hutukara, have been calling for the miners to be removed for years, and it recently proposed a six-point plan to redress some of the harm done to Indigenous peoples in Brazil under the Bolsonaro regime. Shocking satellite photos released by Survival in 2020 revealed the scale of destruction at just one mining camp.

The head of Survival Brasil, Sarah Shenker, said today:

“This disaster has in large part been orchestrated by former President Bolsonaro. He encouraged the miners’ invasion and even prevented medical teams from entering the area, when the scale of the health emergency was clear.

“Now, besides the removal of the miners, an intensive healthcare operation is needed to address the crisis. And it’s going to take real political will to dismantle and bring to justice the criminal gangs who now occupy the area, and have sown terror throughout the Yanomami’s territory.

“This operation hasn’t come a moment too soon. It’s absolutely vital that the authorities get the miners out, and keep them out. They’ve blighted the Yanomami’s lives for far too long, and have caused untold misery and destruction. Even if all of them are removed, and they can be kept out, it will take years for the Yanomami and their rainforest to recover.

“Above all, this genocide must never be allowed to happen again. Indigenous territories across Brazil must be fully demarcated at last, and protected from invasion. That’s the only way Indigenous peoples, including uncontacted tribes, can survive and thrive and continue to live in their own way on their lands, which are among the most biodiverse on Earth.”

Gold miners work illegally on Yanomami land, Brazil. Credit: Colin Jones/Survival