Brazil’s Yanomami region looks like a ‘concentration camp’, official says

BRASILIA, Brazil — The Brazilian military is expected to evict illegal gold diggers who have caused malnutrition and starvation in an area of ​​the Yanomami reservation near the Venezuelan border, Indigenous Health Secretary Weibe Tapeba said Tuesday.

“It looks like a concentration camp,” Tapeba, a doctor appointed to the post by Brazil’s new government, said in a radio interview.

Tapeba said 700 community members were going hungry and health care was non-existent due to the presence of well-armed gold miners who scared the medical staff at the health post and prevented people from bringing medicines. medicines and food.

This photo released by the Brazilian Presidency Press Office shows Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva visiting the Yanomami (Casai) indigenous health house in the rural area of ​​Boa Vista, Roraima state, Brazil, January 21, 2023.
Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, left, visits the Yanomami indigenous health home in the rural area of ​​Boa Vista, Roraima state in Brazil on Saturday.Ricardo Stuckert / Brazilian Presidency via AFP – Getty Images

Brazil’s health ministry on Friday declared a medical emergency in Yanomami territory, the country’s largest indigenous reservation, following reports of children dying of malnutrition and other illnesses caused by mining. gold.

On Saturday, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva visited the state following the release of photos showing Yanomami children and elderly people so thin their ribs were visible.

“It is an extreme calamity, many Yanomami are malnourished and there is a total absence of the Brazilian state,” Tapeba said.

An invasion of more than 20,000 savage gold diggers has contaminated rivers with mercury that has poisoned fish the Yanomami eat, he said, citing children whose hair is falling out from mercury used to separate ore gold.

“The health teams cannot get here because of the heavily armed bandits. This can only be solved by removing the miners and it can only be done by the armed forces,” he said.

Brazil’s Supreme Court ordered the eviction of the gold diggers. But the previous government of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro never complied. Yanomami leaders said their pleas for help had been ignored.

In four years of Bolsonaro’s presidency, 570 Yanomami children have died of curable diseases, mostly malnutrition but also malaria, diarrhea and deformities caused by mercury in rivers, Amazon journalism platform Sumauma reported, citing data obtained by FOIA.

The reserve has been overrun by illegal miners for decades, but incursions have increased since Bolsonaro took office in 2018, promising to allow mining on previously protected indigenous lands and offering to legalize mining savage.

Justice Minister Flavio Dino said Monday there was “genocide evidence” that is being investigated.

In December, Survival International warned of the scale of the crisis, citing a study by UNICEF and the Brazilian biomedical research center FioCruz which found that 8 out of 10 Yanomami suffered from chronic malnutrition and that the number of deaths due to preventable diseases in children under five was 13 times the national number. medium.

“The Yanomami rarely suffer from malnutrition under normal circumstances. Their forests are abundant and they are adept at growing, gathering and hunting whatever they need, and they enjoy excellent health,” Survival International director Fiona Watson said in a statement.

“This is a deliberate, man-made crisis, stoked by President Bolsonaro, who encouraged the massive invasion and destruction of Yanomami lands,” she said.

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