BRASILIA — Brazil’s military should evict illegal gold miners who have caused malnutrition and hunger in a region of the Yanomami reserve near the border with Venezuela, 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 starving and medical care is non-existent due to the presence of well-armed gold miners who chased away medical workers from the health post and prevented people from bringing supplies of medicine and food.
Brazil’s Health Ministry declared a medical emergency on Friday in Yanomami territory, the country’s largest indigenous reserve, after reports of children dying of malnutrition and other illnesses caused by gold mining.
On Saturday, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva visited the state after the publication of photos showing Yanomami children and elderly people so thin that their ribs were visible.
“It is an extreme calamity, many Yanomami suffer from malnutrition and there is a total absence of the Brazilian State,” Tapeba said.
An invasion by more than 20,000 wild gold miners has polluted rivers with mercury that has poisoned the fish the Yanomami eat, he said, citing children whose hair falls out due to the mercury used to separate gold. ore gold.
“Health teams cannot get here because of the heavily armed bandits. This can only be solved by getting the gold miners out and that can only be done by the armed forces,” he said.
The Brazilian Supreme Court ordered the expulsion of the gold miners. But the previous government of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro never delivered. Yanomami leaders said their pleas for help were ignored.
In four years of Bolsonaro’s presidency, 570 Yanomami children died of curable diseases, mainly malnutrition but also malaria, diarrhea and malformations caused by mercury in the rivers, reported the Amazon journalistic platform Sumauma, citing data obtained by a FOIA.
The reserve has been invaded by illegal gold miners for decades, but raids have multiplied since Bolsonaro took office in 2018 vowing to allow mining on previously protected indigenous lands and offering to legalize wild mining.
Justice Minister Flavio Dino said on Monday that there was “evidence of genocide” that is being investigated.
In December, Survival International warned of the scope of the crisis, citing a study by UNICEF and Brazil’s FioCruz biomedical research center that found that 8 out of 10 Yanomami were chronically malnourished and that deaths from preventable diseases among children under the age of five years were 13 times greater than the national ones. average.
“The Yanomami rarely suffer from malnutrition under normal circumstances. Their forests are plentiful and they are experts at growing, gathering and hunting everything they need, and they are in excellent health,” Survival International director Fiona Watson said in a statement.
“This is a deliberate man-made crisis, fanned by President Bolsonaro, who has encouraged the massive invasion and destruction of Yanomami lands,” he said.