Deadly Clashes Erupt as Brazil Fights to Recover Yanomami Territory from Illegal Miners | Amazon Watch
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Deadly Clashes Erupt as Brazil Fights to Recover Yanomami Territory from Illegal Miners

May 2, 2023 | Camila Rossi | Campaign Update

Photo: Leo Otero / Ascom MPI

Tensions escalated in the Yanomami Indigenous Land in Roraima over the weekend, three months after a federal operation was launched to eradicate illegal mining and remove 20,000 trespassers from the area. On Sunday, April 30, four men were killed in an alleged confrontation with agents from Brazil’s Federal Highway Police (PRF) and Environmental Agency IBAMA during an operation against illegal mining.

Yanomami leader Júnior Hekurari reported that between 15 and 20 heavily armed miners arrived by boat and opened fire on locals. Three Yanomami men, aged 36, 31, and 24, were shot. The oldest, Indigenous health worker Ilson Xiriana, died after being shot in the head. The two injured Indigenous men, Venâncio Xirixana and Otoniel Xirixana are now out of danger and recovering.

The shootings occurred following a three-month operation that, according to Brazil’s Ministry of the Environment, destroyed 327 miners’ camps, 18 planes, 2 helicopters, hundreds of engines, and dozens of rafts, boats, and tractors. Sunday’s attack was the fourth since the start of the operation, the ministry stated.

However, the operation against illegal mining has faced limitations acknowledged by members of the federal government themselves. In response to Saturday’s attack, the Minister of Indigenous Peoples, Sônia Guajajara, admitted that “many coordinated actions are still needed until all trespassers are removed from the territory.”

Photo: Leo Otero / Ascom MPI

The ongoing threats to the Yanomami were the subject of a joint statement from the Hutukara Yanomami Association (HAY) and the Texoli Ninam Association of the State of Roraima (TANER), organizations working in the region.

“Even after three months of federal actions, the Yanomami people continue to suffer from outbreaks of diseases like malaria, attacks, and more deaths at the hands of invaders who persist in exploiting and devastating our sacred territory and shedding the blood of our relatives,” the statement said, signed by Dario Kopenawa, HAY vice-president, and Gerson Xiriana, TANER president.

Indigenous People’s Minister Guajajara, alongside Environmental Minister Marina Silva and Public Health Minister Nísia Trindade, visited Roraima after the attack that resulted in the death of health agent Ilson Xirixana, who worked in the Yanomami Indigenous Health District.

Guajajara stated that miners remaining on Indigenous land seek to provoke conflict. “Our concern is that everything happens as peacefully as possible. We are in no way encouraging these conflicts. We want to ease the situation. We don’t want bloodshed.”

Government officials include Indigenous Peoples Minister Sonia Guajajara, Environmental Minister Marina Silva, and head of Brazil’s National Indigenous Foundation Joenia Wapichana. Photo: Leo Otero / Ascom MPI

During Bolsonaro’s government, hundreds of Yanomami children reportedly died of curable diseases, partly due to mining syndicates bringing an explosion of malaria and hindering health teams from working. Deforestation also surged across the Amazon.

“We’re fighting a de facto war,” one of the operation’s commanders told The Guardian after his team torched a rainforest camp. “It’s a silent war that society doesn’t see – but those of us doing battle know it exists.”

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