©Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva looks on as he visits the Yanomami Indigenous Health House (CASA Yanomami) in Boa Vista, Roraima state, Brazil January 21, 2023. Ricardo Stuckert/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS – THIS IMAGE
By Anthony Boodle
BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazil’s military should expel illegal gold miners who have been causing malnutrition and hunger in a region of the Yanomami Reserve near the Venezuelan border, Indigenous Health Minister Weibe Tapeba said on Tuesday, urging
“It looks like a concentration camp,” said Tapeba, a doctor appointed to the position by Brazil’s new government, in a radio interview.
Tapeba said 700 members of the community are starving and there is no health care due to the presence of well-armed gold miners, who scare medical workers away from the health station and prevent people from bringing in supplies of medicine and food.
Brazil’s Health Ministry on Friday declared a medical emergency in Yanomami territory, the country’s largest indigenous reserve, after reports of children dying of malnutrition and other diseases linked to gold mining.
President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva visited the state on Saturday after photos were released showing Yanomami children and the elderly so thin their ribs were showing.
“It’s an extreme disaster, many Yanomami are suffering from malnutrition and the Brazilian state is completely absent,” Tapeba said.
An invasion of more than 20,000 wildcat gold miners has contaminated rivers with mercury, which poisons the fish the Yanomami eat, he said, citing children losing their hair because the mercury was used to separate gold from ore.
“Health teams cannot come here because of the heavily armed bandits. This can only be solved by removing the gold diggers and that can only be done by the armed forces,” he said.
Brazil’s Supreme Court ordered the gold diggers to be removed. But the previous government of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro never did. Yanomami leaders said their calls for help were ignored.
In four years of Bolsonaro’s presidency, 570 Yanomami children died from curable diseases, mainly malnutrition but also malaria, diarrhea and deformities caused by the mercury in the rivers, the Sumauma in the Amazon journalist platform (NASDAQ:) reported, citing data , obtained from a FOIA.
The reserve has been raided by illegal gold miners for decades, but raids have multiplied since Bolsonaro took office in 2018, pledging to allow mining on previously protected tribal lands and offering to legalize feral cat mining.
Justice Minister Flavio Dino said Monday there was “evidence of genocide” being investigated.
In December, Survival International warned of the scale of the crisis, citing a study by UNICEF and the biomedical research center FioCruz in Brazil that found 8 out of 10 Yanomami suffered from chronic malnutrition and deaths from preventable diseases in children under five increased 13 times were as high as the domestic average.
“Under normal circumstances, the Yanomami rarely suffer from malnutrition. Their forests are lush and they are experts at growing, gathering and hunting whatever they need and they are in excellent health,” said Fiona Watson, director of Survival International, in a statement.
“This is a deliberate man-made crisis fueled by President Bolsonaro, who has promoted the mass invasion and destruction of Yanomami land,” she said.