Illegal mining, abuses surge on Indigenous land in Brazil: Report

Illegal mining, abuses surge on Indigenous land in Brazil: Report

Report accuses illegal miners of committing rape, other acts of violence in Indigenous communities in Brazilian Amazon.

Illegal gold mining surged by a record amount last year on Brazil’s biggest Indigenous reservation, according to a new report that carried chilling accounts of abuses by miners, including extorting sex from women and girls.

The area scarred by “garimpo”, or wildcat gold mining, on the Yanomami reservation in the Amazon rainforest increased by 46 percent in 2021, to 3,272 hectares (8,085 acres), said a report by the Hutukara Yanomami Association (HAY) on Monday.

That is the biggest annual increase since monitoring began in 2018.

“This is the worst moment of invasion since the reservation was established 30 years ago,” said the Indigenous rights group in the report, which was based on satellite images and interviews with inhabitants.

“In addition to deforesting our lands and destroying our waters, illegal mining for gold and cassiterite [a key tin ingredient] on Yanomami territory has brought an explosion of malaria and other infectious diseases … and a frightening surge of violence against Indigenous people.”

Men search for gold at an illegal gold mine in the Amazon jungle in the Itaituba area of Para state, Brazil.
Men search for gold at an illegal mine in the Amazon in the Itaituba area of Para state, Brazil [File: Lucas Dumphreys/AP Photo]

Illegal mining has soared in the Amazon as gold prices have surged in recent years.

Mining destroyed a record 125sq km (48sq miles) of the Brazilian Amazon last year, according to official figures.

Illegal miners with links to organised crime are accused of numerous abuses in Indigenous communities, including poisoning rivers with the mercury used to separate gold from sediment and sometimes deadly attacks on residents.

The report comes as far-right President Jair Bolsonaro pushes legislation to legalise mining on Indigenous lands, drawing protests from Indigenous groups and environmentalists.

The Yanomami, one of the Amazon’s most iconic Indigenous groups, related a harrowing series of abuses.

They included miners giving Yanomami alcohol and drugs, then sexually abusing and raping women and girls.

The Yanomami said miners often demanded sex in exchange for food. One miner reportedly demanded an arranged “marriage” with an adolescent girl in exchange for “merchandise” he never delivered.

“Indigenous women see the miners as a terrible threat,” said HAY, condemning “a climate of terror and permanent fear”.

The Yanomami reservation spans 9.7 million hectares (24 million acres) in northern Brazil, with approximately 29,000 inhabitants, including the Yanomami, the Ye’kwana and six isolated groups who have almost no contact with the outside world.

Brazilian environmental and Indigenous authorities did not immediately respond to requests for comment from the AFP news agency on the report.

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