26,000 gold diggers on Yanomami land

OAS Commission on Human Rights demands Brazil to take action (Press Release)

For decades, the indigenous communities in Brazil have been suffering from illegal invaders who mine for gold, cut wood, or burn down the rainforest to make room for cattle breeding and soya cultivation on their territories. Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, the invaders are increasing the risk of infection – in addition to the violence and environmental destruction. At the request of the Yanomami and the Ye'kwana, the Human Rights Commission of the Organization of American States (OAS) is now demanding measures from the Brazilian government.

"About 26,000 gold diggers are currently active in the Yanomami and Ye'kwana territories alone," stated Juliana Miyazaki, expert on indigenous communities at the Society for Threatened Peoples (STP). "In order to find gold, they use a lot of mercury – thus contaminating the rivers where indigenous people fish and from which they obtain their drinking water. The quarries are also ideal breeding grounds for mosquitoes that transmit malaria. The gold diggers are not afraid of violence either: only four weeks ago, they shot two Yanomami. Now, the invaders are also introducing the coronavirus into the indigenous communities – and at least 280 people in the region are already infected.

The latter is probably the main reason why the OAS commission has acknowledged the seriousness of the situation and, ion consequence, come up with demands to Brazil's government. Thus, the government should cooperate with the affected indigenous communities to develop and implement measures to keep the invaders out of the territories. "However, it is more than questionable whether actual measures will be taken and how effective they could be," Miyazaki added, emphasizing that the Bolsonaro government has so far denied any action that could protect indigenous people or the environment. The president himself has repeatedly encouraged gold mining, logging, and slash-and-burn clearing – and it is said that he used his own infection with Covid-19 to further trivialize the disease.

With its 96,000 square kilometers – about twice the size of Lower Saxony - the Yanomami territory is the largest indigenous area in Brazil. Around 26,000 Yanomami live there, in 321 communities. Some of the communities have only recently been contacted, and eight live in voluntary isolation.