Gold miners in the Amazon : indigenous people of Brazil traumatized

Chercheurs d’or en Amazonie : les indigènes du Brésil traumatisés

In the extreme North of Brazil, the natives remember, as you advanced on their lands goldwashing, and the pandemic of sars coronavirus, of the suffering endured at the end of the 1980s.

This “terrible time” was for them synonymous with violence, disease, and death.

“Nearly 40,000 minors are entered on our lands, and almost one-fifth of the indigenous population died in just seven years, due to violence, malaria, malnutrition, poisoning by mercury “, remembering the leaders of Sanuma and Yekuana, two indigenous peoples from the south american country.

These lines come from a letter sent at the end of June the minister of Defence Fernando Azevedo to demand the “immediate withdrawal of all invaders” of the territory of the Yanomami, which stretches over 96 000 km2 and is home to approximately 27 000 indigenous.

“The miners have powerful weapons to kill us, we fear a genocide “, said to AFP Mauricio Yekuana, in Auaris, on the border with Venezuela, before delivering the letter.

Davi Kopenawa, cacique Yanomami with whom Yekuana has championed the indigenous cause abroad, met on July 3 with the vice-president of the brazilian Hamilton Mourao with the same requirement : the expulsion of minors.

According to NGOS, approximately 20 000 gold seekers, illegal to operate on these lands, encouraged by the projects of the president Jair Bolsonaro who wants to “incorporate” these areas to ” modernity “. For its part, the government estimates that the gold diggers are to the number of 3,500.

The presence of minors has environmental consequences, such as the mercury contamination of the rivers, source of water and food for aboriginal communities.

But it also has social consequences, such as the prostitution of the natives, and health, such as the spread of malaria, which is rampant in the region for decades, because of this activity.

It also accompanies threats of another type. Two Yanomami were killed in June by gold-seekers, in a matter that is the subject of an investigation.

For natives, this could lead to another massacre, like that of 1993, when 16 aboriginal people from this ethnic group have been brutally exterminated by gold miners in the community of Haximu.

Contamination

In these times of pandemic, the proximity with minors also represents a high risk for the indigenous people of developing COVID-19, which, according to official figures, has already infected more than 9,000 of them and 193 deaths.

This is the case of Waikas, a small community located in the lands of the Yanomami, where 26 cases have been confirmed.

“I stayed for five days with a fever and five days without being able to get out of the hammock. I had headaches, I felt the smell of food, not even the onion, ” says Marciano Rocha, a member of the ethnic group, yekuana, who works in this community of some 300 inhabitants, where he keeps a small pharmacy.

“There is a youth here who has been traveling with the minor. He began to feel feverish, and we are wary. It is not isolated : it is here that we live and work together. Everyone has had symptoms, ” says Marciano, visibly delivered.

At the center of Waikas, is a dozen wooden buildings. The pharmacy Marciano has received the protective equipment and drugs, during an operation of the army, which has also brought rapid tests COVID-19.

During a first series of tests, all were negative, including Marciano. But by repeating the operation, 22 people were positive, and the four others had already been before.

“The number of minors come to be treated here,” says a colleague of Marciano.

“Cross the Amazon, this comes down to taking a flight from Moscow to Lisbon,” explains the vice-admiral Carlos Chagas, a spokesperson for the ministry of Defence, to give the dimension of the challenge of the Amazon.

More than 9,000 military personnel have been contaminated by the COVID-19, or 2.2 % of assets. This reflects, according to him, the involvement of the army in operations of this type of assistance.

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