Armed Conflict With Illegal Miners and Indigenous People Signals Risk of Imminent Massacre | Amazon Watch
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Armed Conflict With Illegal Miners and Indigenous People Signals Risk of Imminent Massacre, According to Yanomami

May 11, 2021 | For Immediate Release


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Brasilia, Brazil – Illegal miners in seven boats with weapons of different calibers attacked the Palimiú village within the Yanomami Indigenous Land, the largest in Brazil, yesterday in Roraima. The Yanomami struck back with arrows and shotguns. The actual number of injuries and possible deaths is not yet known.

According to the Hutukara Yanomami Association, four miners and one Yanomami, have been shot. But, according to the president of the Yanomami and Ye’kuana District Health Council, Junior Hekurari, three miners died, five were shot and one Yanomami was injured.

A video obtained by the Yanomami shows the moment of the shootout in the village. The recording shows the watercraft, passing in front of a village with several women and children and then sounds of gunshots. According to Junior Hekurari, the Yanomami are very scared. “They never saw [something] like what happened today. They are asking for a task force, from the Federal Police and the Army, to provide security.”

Amazônia Real news agency reported that the miners are thought to be connected to the First Command of the Capital (PCC), a criminal faction in São Paulo that dominates drug trafficking in Roraima and is already operating in illegal gold mines within Indigenous territory.

In a letter sent to the Brazilian Army, the Federal Police, the National Indigenous Foundation (FUNAI), and the Federal Public Ministry (MPF) of Roraima, the Hutukara Yanomami Association (HYA) calls on the agencies to act “with urgency to prevent the continued spiral of violence here and to guarantee security for the Yanomami community of Palimiú.” In the document, the HYA denounced the men inside the watercraft, confirmed they had left, but said they would return to take revenge. HYA also did not confirm the deaths reported by Condisi Yanomami Ye’kuana.

“International authorities must urgently demand that the Brazilian government act to remove invaders from the Yanomami territory otherwise an ongoing tragedy is approaching. Hutukara has already denounced the presence of miners many times, with well-explained and detailed documents. Several letters have been sent to federal agencies,” says Ana Paula Vargas, Amazon Watch Brazil Program Director. She continued, “The Brazilian Federal Court determined that the Bolsonaro Administration should remove illegal miners from the Yanomami Territory and put forward an action plan. But nothing has been done. There is an escalating threat on the lives of Indigenous peoples underway in Brazil. We stand in solidarity with the Yanomami people and call for urgent attention from international authorities.”

After the attack, a series of audio messages released on WhatsApp groups of illegal miners, who work within the Yanomami Indigenous Land, indicates the escalation of tension between invaders and Indigenous communities. The messages point to the movement of a “faction” heavily armed with “rifles and machine guns” on the Uraricoera River. Dário Kopenawa, president of the HYA, pointed out that the Uraricoera region, located between the states of Roraima and Amazonas, where the conflict took place, is intensely affected by illegal mining. “Above the Palimiú community, there is gold mining and gold mines nearby. The river is busy with machinery, rafts for the miners. They use this river every day, up and down, up and down,” he told Amazônia Real.

According to Junior Hekurari, the people of Palimiú village believe that the attack was in retaliation for their “sanitary barrier,” which is strategically located and blocks the traffic of boats that go upstream to the mining areas. “The Yanomami have been seizing gasoline, quad bikes, and preventing miners from passing, so they are reacting. This was the third shooting attack on the community in 15 days, but at other times there were no injuries,” he detailed.

Today, the Association of Brazil’s Indigenous Peoples (APIB) once again requested to Brazil’s Supreme Court (STF), under the Claim of Non-compliance with Fundamental Precept (ADPF) case 709, the immediate removal of invaders from the Yanomami Indigenous Land in the face of imminent genocide and the escalating threat of malaria and COVID-19 by illegal miners. APIB states that if the STF fails to take steps to ensure the lives of the Yanomami, it would show negligence in the face of yet another Indigenous genocide.

Recent conflict history

On April 30, the Hutukara had alerted FUNAI, the Federal Police, and the MPF about “the occurrence of a shootout between Indigenous people and illegal miners in Palimiú.” According to the letter, on April 27 a group of Indigenous people intercepted a boat with five miners and seized a cargo of 900 liters of fuel. In retaliation, seven other miners “responded by firing three shots at the Indigenous people.” The Yanomami responded, but no one was hurt.

Two months earlier, on March 1, 2021, Hutukara had already sent another letter to the Federal Police informing about a conflict that occurred in the community of Helepe, also on the banks of the Uraricoera River, in which a group of eight miners approached the community and started a conflict that resulted in the death of an illegal miner and an injured Indigenous person. At the time, withdrawing prospectors were already threatening retaliation.

At the end of March, the report “Scars in the Forest – The Growth of Illegal Mining in the Yanomami Indigenous Territory in 2020” revealed that illegal gold mining ignored the pandemic and advanced 30% in the Yanomami Territory in 2020, an area equivalent to 500 soccer fields (500 hectares) was devastated by illegal mining activities from January to December 2020.

In his weekly “live” on April 29, in a clear position in favor of illegal mining, a hallmark of his government, President Jair Bolsonaro announced that he wants to visit Army border platoons in the northern region of Brazil and go to an illegal mining area operation in the coming weeks. “We are not going to arrest anyone. It will not be an operation to go after. I want to talk to people, how they live there, to start to get a sense of how much gold comes out,” he explained.

The attempt to legalize illegal mining was rightfully denounced by the Hutukara Yanomami Association, which, in a note released on May 6, rejected the presidential visit. In the Yanomami Indigenous Land, there are three border platoons.

“We do not want Jair Bolsonaro to come and talk inside the territory, nor to visit the illegal mining camps. We, traditional leaders, are not interested in discussing illegal mining, we do not want to negotiate the legalization of mining,” said the note.

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