Jewelry gold is killing the Yanomami of Brazil
Criminal groups take advantage of the absence of controls to invade lands and rivers with a devastating impact on the population of the Amazon rainforest, starting with the contamination of the mercury used lavishly by gold diggers
Maria ZuppelloFrom Sao Paulo, Brazil.< /i>
A four-year-old Yanomami indigenous boy, receiving treatment for malnutrition, holds his father's hand in the special patio for indigenous people at the Children's Hospital Santo Antonio, in Boa Vista, Roraima state, Brazil, January 27, 2023 (REUTERS)
It is a fast race against time for the Brazilian government to saving the lives of hundreds of Yanomami Indians, including many children, hit by malnutrition, dysentery, pneumonia and malaria. A health and humanitarian emergency declared by President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva himself after his lightning visit last week to the state of Roraima, epicenter of the crisis. Among the first measures decided is the arrival of humanitarian flights from the Brazilian Air Force, which brought food and first aid medicines. A field hospital was also created to care for the more than700 Yanomami who now need urgent care. The most seriously ill children are being cared for at the hospital in Boa Vista, the capital of Roraima, which since January 1 has welcomed some thirty indigenous children, 27 of whom are Yanomami suffering from a severe malnutrition.
According to the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples, which has just been inaugurated by the new government, At least 570 Yanomami children have lost their lives in the last four years due to this health emergency. With a thousand-year history behind them, the Yanomami are among the oldest and most isolated inhabitants of the Amazon rainforest, divided into more than 600 indigenous villages between Brazil and Venezuela. In the last 15 years their conditions have deteriorated and under the Bolsonaro government they have suffered a drastic reduction in social inter
inventions and an increase in illegal mining , also known as “garimpo”, on their lands.
Hence the harsh accusations of the new government against the previous Bolsonaro administration. Both Lula and her Environment Minister, Marina Silva, have accused the former president of “genocide” , a matter on which the Federal Police has just opened an investigation at the request of the Minister of Justice, Flavio Dino, to find out possible omissions. In Brazil, there has been a law sanctioned by then President Juscelino Kubitschek since 1956 that classifies the crime of genocide with a maximum sentence of 30 years, since the country does not contemplate life imprisonment in its penal code. The Federal Supreme Court (STF), according to leaks in the Brazilian press, also intends to investigate in the coming days the possible responsibility of the Bolsonaro government in sending false data about the Yanomami communities.
Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva looks on as he visits the Yanomami Indigenous Health House (CASA Yanomami) in Boa Vista, state from Roraima, Brazil, January 21, 2023 (Reuters)
In addition to drastically reducing essential bodies for indigenous communities such as the National Environmental Council (CONAMA), Bolsonaro in his four years in government has placed soldiers with no experience in the subject at the head of the Secretariat of Indigenous Health, the last in chronological order Colonel Reginaldo Machado. Machado traveled to Roraima in December to meet with the Coordination of the Special District for Yanomami Indigenous Health and “propose actions to solve the health problems of the community.” In addition, according to a report by FUNAI (the National Foundation for Indigenous Peoples) published in recent hours by the Brazilian press, exponents of the illegal mining sector have regularly bribed the Roraima military in recent years to be able to operate without controls. .
The cause of the tragedy for the Yanomami and other indigenous peoples of the Amazon is not only their isolation, as the Bolsonaro government stressed throughout its term, but the devastation of the environment environment due to illegal mining. In 2021 alone, the area destroyed by the Yanomami reserves by the nearly 20,000 prospectors for gold and precious materials that occupy it increased by 46%. Despite the fact that gold mining in indigenous reserves is prohibited in Brazil, Criminal groups take advantage of the absence of controls to invade lands and rivers with a devastating impact on the population, beginning with the contamination of mercury used profusely by gold prospectors and left in the rivers without any ecological compensation.
It is a gigantic market that affects the entire Amazon region, not only in Brazil, which in 2021 moved 52.8 tons of gold in the country of samba with “serious suspicions of illegality” (25% more than in 2020). according to data from the Escolha Institute. The one who controls this criminal market is, on the one hand, organized crime, including groups such as the First Capital Command (PCC), which thus diversifies its criminal portfolio and its possibilities for money laundering.On the other hand, at a higher level, there are banks, investment funds, credit cooperatives, including foreign ones, that finance mining exploitation in Brazil, essential capital to acquire the appropriate machinery and aircraft for transport. The areas where illegal mining operates are 98% accessible only by air, and this explains why illegal extractors or “garimpeiros” have seized dozens of tracks for this illegal use.< /p>
The vice president of the Hutukara Yanomami Association (HAY), Dário Kopenawa Yanomami, told the Brazilian press that “the garimpeiros, when they come to our lands, give our people food, alcoholic beverages and drugs” to control them. The indigenous spokesman also denounced the numerous sexual abuses of women and children by gold prospectors. “It's not hunger that's killing us,” he said, “but the lack of medical care, the contamination of our waters, and the lack of government accountability.”
The Federal Public Ministry has been urging for days, as it had done in the past without success, for the invaders to withdraw from seven indigenous lands in the state of Roraima, where not only the Yanomami live, but also other ethnic groups such as the Karipuna, Kayapo and Mundurucu. In 2022, the federal court had already decided that the National Mining Agency should hold auctions of the products confiscated from the illegal sector to donate the proceeds to the protection of indigenous people. But the auction never took place.
FILE PHOTO: A Yanomami Indian follows agents from Brazil's environmental agency at a gold mine during an operation against illegal gold mining on indigenous lands, in the heart of the Amazon rainforest, in the state of Roraima, Brazil ( REUTERS)
On the legislative front, the new government, through FUNAI, revoked on January 16 a regulation that made logging on indigenous lands more flexible, even for non-indigenous people. It is also working to repeal a law that facilitates the circulation of illegal gold in Brazil, under which companies that buy Brazilian gold, including foreign ones, are not required to require certificates proving its legal origin.
< p class="paragraph">“We consider that this law is unconstitutional,” said Justice Minister Dino, who has already involved the State Attorney General's Office to file an unconstitutionality request with the STF. “This law allows a kind of illegal gold laundering because it is based solely on the good faith of the seller and the buyer.” In addition, the Ministry of the Environment trusts the Amazon Fund, reactivated in January by the new government, which should also contribute millions of dollars to the Brazilian government's coffers to reinforce the fight against environmental crimes. The German Reconstruction Credit Bank (KFW) has allocated 193 million reais ($38 million) to the Fund in recent days.
The other big problem remains being deforestation. According to a recent study by the National Institute for Space Research (Inpe), in 2022 and up to the date of September 19,More than 76,000 fires were recorded, the highest number since 2010. The result is that, always according to Inpe, from August 2020 to June 2021, 13,000 square kilometers of Amazonia have been deforested, the equivalent of nine times the city of São Paulo. Behind deforestation is timber trafficking, which is part of a gigantic agribusiness sector that alone accounts for 27% of Brazil's GDP. According to Imaflora, an environmental conservation NGO, only 10% of Amazonian timber is legal.
A recent report by the Brazilian Forum for Public Safety (FBSP), in collaboration with the Brazilian Institute for Climate and Society and the State University of Pará, links violence to deforestation. In 2020, the Brazilian Amazon had the highest homicide rate in Brazil, with 29.6 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, compared to the national average of 23.9. The highest rates correspond to the municipalities that suffer the most deforestation.
And it has been news in recent days that the Federal Police have closed the case of the brutal murder of the British journalist Dom Phillips and the activist and defender of indigenous rights, Bruno Pereira . The Superintendent of the Federal Police of the state of Amazonia confirmed that the instigator of his murder was Rubén Dario da Silva Villar, alias “Colômbia”, a Brazilian criminal also investigated for illegal fishing and drug trafficking.
The murder of British journalist Dom Phillips and indigenista Bruno Pereira in the Brazilian Amazon in June was prompted by a photo one of them requested seize the boat of his assassins, the public ministry said on Friday.
The two victims disappeared on June 5, 2022 in a small town called São Rafael, during an expedition for Phillips' new book on the Amazon jungle. The two were found dead some ten days later, amid ongoing controversy over claims by President Jair Messias Bolsonaro that the two had “gone on an adventure” and delays in the search.
Once the Yanomami emergency is over, a stricter control system for illegal activities in the region and a more structured health intervention will be necessary to avoid new catastrophes among indigenous peoples. Lula has decided to propose the controversial Cuban program “More Doctors”, accused of human rights violations, through which the island's dictatorship earns money by lending its doctors all over the world. But the new government has made it clear that the call will give priority to Brazilian doctors and only later to foreigners. In addition, it will be important to establish greater coordination of non-governmental organizations present throughout the Amazon, some 16,000, some of them religious and with millionaire funds, but without official coordination with the government authorities. Several parliamentarians have been trying to shed light on the matter for some time through the proposal for an ad hoc Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry, approved three years ago, but which has never materialized.