World, Americas

Brazil: Gold miners invade Amazon, bring death, disease

Illegal gold miners invade tribal lands in Brazil, causing deaths of 4 children, spreading diseases

Vakkas Dogantekin   | 02.07.2019
Brazil: Gold miners invade Amazon, bring death, disease


Thousands of illegal gold miners on Monday entered land populated by indigenous Amazon tribes in northern Brazil, causing the deaths of four children and risking pandemic spread disease among locals, according to a non-profit group.

Indigenous rights activists Survival International reported that in addition to previously contacted tribal communities, there were at least one and potentially up to six uncontacted Yanomami tribes in the invaded area where river contamination and the spread of malaria pose great risk to local peoples.

Pushing the government to remove the miners, Yanomami association Hutukara, estimates some 10,000 miners invaded their territories, emboldened by President Jair Bolsonaro's ambitious economic program to expand agriculture and business to tribal areas at the expense of indigenous communities.

After Bolsonaro took the helm earlier this year and made his expansionist policies known, Brazilian natives led the largest-ever international protest to raise awareness about the government's alleged war against their fundamental indigenous rights.

Thousands marched in the Brazilian capital of Brasilia in April to protest the government's policies that allegedly threaten their traditional lands in the Amazon rainforest.

According to the rights group, 35,000 Yanomami straddle both sides of the Brazil-Venezuela border, with 20% of their population in Brazil having died from diseases brought in by goldminers during a previous gold rush in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

After an international campaign led by Yanomami leaders, Survival International and the CCPY (Pro-Yanomami Commission), Yanomami land in Brazil was demarcated as the Yanomami Park in 1992.

The Yanomami territories in Brazil and Venezuela together form the largest forested indigenous territory in the world.

Davi Kopenawai, one of the tribe’s leaders said: "Four of our rivers -- the Uraricoera, Mucajai, Apiau and Alto Catrimani -- are polluted. It’s getting worse, more miners are coming in. They’re they’re just bringing trouble. Malaria has already increased here, and killed four of our children."

Survival International Director Stephen Corry said "Bolsonaro’s racism has tragic consequences -- and the gold rush underway in northern Brazil is just one example."

Rainforest loss at its peak

Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has sharply increased under the rule of president Jair Bolsonaro's right-wing government, with satellite data indicating that an area the size of a football pitch is being destroyed every minute, the according to a previous BBC report.

Citing an anonymous Brazilian official the report said Bolsonaro’s government was actively encouraging deforestation and attempting to discredit data from departments charged with monitoring the state of the rainforest. The government openly favors clearing the Amazon rainforest to create new pasture land for the beef industry.

Indigenous people have been resisting to the government campaign for over six months.

In January, the Aruak, Baniwa and Apurina tribes said: "We don’t want to be wiped out by this government’s actions. Our lands play a vital role in maintaining biodiversity. We are people, human beings, we have blood like you do, Mr. President [Bolsonaro], we’re born, we grow… and then we die on our sacred land, like any person on Earth. We’re ready for dialogue, but we’re also ready to defend ourselves."

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