Brazil’s Lula orders crackdown on supplies to illegal miners in Yanomami territory

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FILE PHOTO: A gold dredge is seen at the banks of Uraricoera River during Brazil’s environmental agency operation against illegal gold mining on indigenous land, in the heart of the Amazon rainforest, in Roraima state, Brazil April 15, 2016. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly

SAO PAULO (Reuters) – Brazil’s president on Monday announced a crackdown on transportation of supplies to illegal gold miners in the Yanomami reservation in northern Brazil, hoping to force out the wildcat miners who have caused a humanitarian crisis among the area’s indigenous people.

After meeting with ministers, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva mandated a number of initiatives to fight illegal mining and other criminal activities in the region, the government said in a statement.

That included ordering the government to block flights and river transport providing supplies to the wildcat miners, it said.

“The actions also aim to prevent the access of people not authorized by the public authorities to the region, to prevent illegal activities and the spread of diseases,” it added.

Around 20,000 wildcat gold miners are contaminating the rivers and fish that the Yanomami people – who live on Brazil’s largest indigenous reservation, near the Venezuela border – rely on for water and food, leading to malnutrition and disease.

The miners use small planes to land on clandestine airstrips and speed boats to travel up the rivers.

Lula has also ruled that the Yanomami should be given nutritional and health assistance, as well as guaranteed access to drinking water, “in the shortest possible time,” the statement said.

Earlier on Monday, mining industry lobby Ibram called on the government to act to stamp out illegal gold mining and interrupt the network that launders illegal gold, which is often sold to jewelry makers overseas.

Yanomami Territory has been invaded by illegal miners for decades, but the incursions multiplied after former President Jair Bolsonaro took office in 2019, promising to allow mining on previously protected indigenous lands.

Separately on Monday, the public prosecutor’s office announced an investigation to determine the responsibility of the Brazilian government in the crisis facing the Yanomami people.

The office said there was much evidence incriminating the previous government and painting “a clear picture of widespread lack of healthcare, systematic failure to comply with court orders… and repeated actions by state agents that encouraged violations of (Yanomami people).”

(Reporting by Eduardo Simões and Pedro Fonseca; Writing by Carolina Pulice; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)