Brazil launches operation against mining mafia on Indigenous land

Special forces destroy aircraft and seize weapons; non-profit Amazon Watch asks for probe into those behind the ‘horror’

By DTE Staff
Published: Friday 10 February 2023
IBAMA's operation to remove illegal miners from Yanomami land. Credit: IBAMA

The Brazilian government has finally taken action to remove illegal miners from the largest Indigenous reserve in the Amazon. A helicopter, a plane and a bulldozer were destroyed, and weapons and boats were seized during a special operation deep in Yanomami land, said a press note by non-profit Amazon Watch.

The Yanomami, also spelt Yąnomamö or Yanomama, are a group of approximately 35,000 indigenous people who live in some 200-250 villages in the Amazon rainforest on the border between Venezuela and Brazil.

An estimated 25,000 miners invaded Indigenous territory, over a span of several years, especially during the reign of former President Jair Bolsenaro.

The illegal miners brought in disease, sexual abuse and armed violence that terrorised the Yanomami community, estimated at 28,000 people, leading to severe malnutrition and deaths, said Amazon Watch.

The operation was launched February 6, 2023, with military troops establishing a base along the Uraricoera River.

Brazil’s environmental protection agency IBAMA — with support from the Indigenous agency FUNAI and the newly created Ministry for Indigenous Peoples — had launched the action. The environmental squad seized generators, internet antennas and freezers along with a tonne of food.

The operation’s main objective is to cut supply lines, rendering this remote and capital-intensive activity unviable, as well as to establish a stable on-the-ground presence of inspection teams for an undetermined period of time, IBAMA said in a statement.

In recent weeks, dozens of Yanomami children were flown to hospitals in Boa Vista suffering from malnutrition and malaria. At least 570 Yanomami children were reported to have died of curable diseases during Bolsonaro’s administration.

“Illegal mining kills and displaces people from their land,” said Paula Vargas, Amazon Watch’s Brazil programme director. “The Yanomami people and the forests they inhabit will take a generation to recover from Bolsonaro’s genocidal agenda.”

While driving the miners out is critically important, there remains much to be done, Vargas added.

“There is an unprecedented health crisis among the Yanomami and a social crisis in the region, as the miners may migrate to other Indigenous territories and protected forests. A rigorous investigation is required to uncover who is investing in and profiting from this horror,” she said.

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