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Brazil expels illegal miners from Yanomami territory


ALTO ALEGRE, Brazil — Armed government officials with Brazil’s Justice, Indigenous and Environmental Agencies began on Wednesday to drive thousands of illegal prospectors from the Yanomami’s indigenous territory. world.

People involved in the illegal dredging of gold streamed away from the area on foot. The operation can take months. Some 20,000 people are believed to be involved in the activity, often using toxic mercury to separate the gold.

The authorities, the Brazilian environmental agency Ibama, with the support of the National Foundation of Indigenous Peoples and the National Public Security Force, found and destroyed a helicopter, an airplane, a bulldozer and makeshift huts and hangars. Two guns and three boats with 5,000 liters (1,320 gal) of fuel were also seized. They also discovered a helicopter hidden in the forest and set it on fire.

Ibama established a checkpoint next to a Yanomami village on the Uracoera River to interrupt the supply chain of the miners there. Agents seized the 12-meter (39-foot) boats loaded with a ton of food, freezers, generators and internet antennas. The cargo will now supply federal agents. No more boats with fuel and equipment are allowed to pass the blockade.

The large amount of supplies upstream may indicate that some prospectors are ignoring President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s promise to expel them after years of neglect under his predecessor, Bolsonaro, who tried to legalize the activity.

However, other miners felt it was better to return to the city. On Tuesday, The Associated Press visited a mining camp along the Uracoera River, accessible only by a three-hour drive on a dirt road. Dozens of prospectors arrived during the day, some of them after walking through the woods for days.

One of them, João Batista Costa, 61, told reporters that the Yanomami are starving and that recent emergency food shipments have not been enough.

The federal government has declared a public health emergency for the Yanomami people, who suffer from malnutrition and diseases such as malaria due to illegal mining.

A report released yesterday by the Ministry of Health shows that gold miners have raided four clinics in the Yanomami area, rendering them unusable. In the town of Boa Vista, where starving and sick indigenous people have been transferred to a temporary medical facility, there are 700 Yanomami, more than three times the facility’s capacity.

The prospectors, who come from poor regions such as the state of Maranhao in northeastern Brazil, mostly traverse the forest in flip-flops, carrying only food and personal belongings in their backpacks. They sleep in hammocks on improvised campsites.

An estimated 30,000 Yanomami people live in Brazil’s largest indigenous territory, which covers an area about the size of Portugal and spans the states of Roraima and Amazonas in the northwestern corner of the Brazilian Amazon.

The Associated Press’ climate and environmental coverage is supported by several private foundations. Read more about AP’s climate initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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