A federal court in Brazil has ruled that unless illegal miners or garimpeiros are removed from Yanomami lands in the next 10 days, government institutions in Brazil will be fined $1 million reais (close to $182K in US dollars) until they comply with this order. This story has significant consequences on how Amazon forests are protected to curb the climate crisis, and the role that indigenous people play in protecting our collective future. It is also a warning on the myriad obstacles present to deal with such a complex situation.
According to the Rede Pró-Yanomami e Ye’kwana, a research-based initiative, the Yanomami territory in north eastern Brazil (southern Venezuela) has been invaded by more than 20,000 illegal miners. This is not a new occurrence, as it has roots in Brazil’s dictatorship in the 1980s, a time when the military regime ordered the construction of the Perimetral Norte Highway, invading indigenous lands for gold mining that lasted until 1992. Rede’s report, “Xawara: tracing the deadly path of Covid-19 and government negligence in the Yanomami Territory,” provides a detailed account of this struggle, and how Bolsonaro’s government has undermined the health and safety of indigenous people in Yanomami lands.
Illegal and legal mining brings devastating consequences to pristine forests and their inhabitants. Direct consequences for the Yanomami have included the spread of endemic diseases, such as COVID-19 and malaria, selective murders and corruption of indigenous leaders, forced prostitution and rape, record deforestation and animal trafficking. Bolsonaro’s government worsened the health prospects of indigenous populations by undermining and gutting funds for the Special Secretariat for Indigenous Health and Indigenous Health Teams. Ignored by state forces, despite a dangerous uptick in COVID cases, indigenous peoples decided to take the situation into their own hands by creating the Pro-Yanomami and Ye’kwana Network (Pro-YY Network) to conduct independent monitoring of the virus and build a communications strategy for the outside world, such as the map below.
They also launched an international campaign #ForaGarimpoForaCovid (see Awasqa’s post in June) to highlight the huge risks to a population highly vulnerable to these invasions and the coronavirus brought by outsiders into their communities. The Yonomami Indigenous Territory spans approximately 9.6 million hectares and is home to more than 360 villages, or 26,785 people, who speak six distinct languages.
Thanks to these efforts, a federal regional court determined that an emergency plan elaborated back in in June 2020 should be strictly enforced to safeguard indigenous people’s lives in the area, particularly after learning the deaths of nine Yanomami children with COVID. The judge in charge designated the situation as a “risk of genocide” due to the large number of illegal garimpeiros present in indigenous territory. To make last year’s court decision enforceable, the judge placed the $1 million reais per day against União, a Fundação Nacional do Índio (Funai), the Instituto Brasileiro do Meio Ambiente e dos Recursos Naturais Renováveis (Ibama), and the Instituto Chico Mendes de Conservação da Biodiversidade (ICMBio) if the garimpeiros are not removed. Emergency contingencies also include:
- The establishment of interinstitutional teams formed by command forces to contain illicit acts at strategic points where there is mining in Yanomami lands, such as inspectors from Ibama, ICMBio, national forces, armed forces and environmental military police, federal police, and Funai;
- Sufficient and adequate staff for repressive and investigative strategic actions;
- Availability of essential material means (food, supplies, services, and equipment);
- Presentation of biweekly reports proving compliance with the injunction;
- Guarantee of immediate withdrawal of all non-indigenous garimpeiros and their non-return, maintaining the state presence permanently throughout the period in which the COVID-19 pandemic is recognized; and
- Measures to avoid aggravating the risk of contamination in Yanomami land, so that the teams assigned to carry out the plan adopt strict preventive sanitary measures, such as prior quarantine and not approaching indigenous populations.
In December of 2020, representatives of a Yanomami and Ye’kwana delegation presented close to half a million signatures to Brazil’s Congress, according to Instituto Socioambiental, with clear demands for health and environmental justice in the Amazon. They called for halting illegal mining and the expulsion of garimpeiros from Yanomami lands, an emergency health response to COVID-19 and malaria, but also accountability measures against a government’s failure to protect its people.
Although vaccinations against COVID-19 have begun in Yanomami territories, many more resources will be needed to continue monitoring the area, provide support for local health workers, and increasing inspection activities to control illegal mining.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Read here Yanomami’s story of resistance.