In Brazil, the Yanomami Indian territory jeopardized by the explosion of gold mining


Encouraged by the speech of President Jair Bolsonaro and the negligence of state agencies, thousands of "garimpeiros" flock to indigenous lands, bringing with them diseases and mercury pollution.

By Claireois Posted today at 06:35, updated at 06:47

Time to Play 6 min.

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Yanomami Indians photographed in 2010.
Yanomami Indians photographed in 2010. FIONA WATSON / SURVIVAL

Stunned by the "gold fever", it is often guided by a simple rumor, the fantasy of a secret mine discovered deep in the Amazonian jungle, that the "garimpeiros", secret gold miners, decide to flee a life miserable to try the adventure. Galvanized by the message of impunity sent by the government of Jair Bolsonaro, these outlaws invaded en masse for some months the indigenous territory of the Yanomami in Brazil.

They carry with them deadly epidemics, fights and prostitution putting particularly in danger one or even six tribes of isolated Indians. These miners would now be between 7,000 and 10,000, according to estimates of the National Foundation of the Indian (Funai), dependent on the state, and not less than 20,000 according to the cacique Yanomami Davi Kopenawa. Their activities, financed by obscure companies and some crooked politicians, have reached such proportions that since September 2018, no less than 194 kg of gold have been exported from Roraima to India … without any legal mine is listed in the State.

"Garimpeiros come in planes, boats, on foot. They threaten us with their weapons, scare our women, pollute our rivers with mercury, bring malaria, pneumonia, diarrhea. But the government does not respect us, on the contrary, it wants to allow the mining of our territory! "Dario Vitorio Kopenawa, vice-president of the yanomami Hutukara association and son of the shaman Davi Kopenawa, who estimates that in six months, 10 000 "garimpeiros" would have entered their lands.

"The socio-environmental impacts of these explorations are enormous"Guilherme Augusto Gomes Martins, a member of Funai, said, citing among other things the sexual exploitation of indigenous people and the alarming contamination of mercury populations, reaching 92% of Indians in some villages.

Article reserved for our subscribers Read also Mercury, the dark side of gold panning

The phenomenon, dramatic, is old. In the 1980s, the discovery of significant mineral wealth in indigenous lands spurred a veritable gold rush leading to massacre by homicides or diseases of nearly 30% of the Yanomami.

"The situation is now out of control"

It was only after the demarcation of their territory, in 1992, under the impetus of the pro-Yanomami Commission, and thanks to the multiplication of police operations supported by the Funai and the Brazilian Institute of the Environment ( Ibama), that the invasions of "garimpeiros" have stopped before resuming in 2015, under the government of Dilma Rousseff left and explode since the election of Jair Bolsonaro in November 2018. "The situation is now out of control"laments Marcos Wesley of the Socio-Environmental Institute (ISA).


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