Yanomami, an interrupted extermination

By Arlindo Rodrigues


The state of Roraima has 35 indigenous lands, the two largest and most populous being Raposa Serra do Sol and Yanomami. The second people has faced a humanitarian crisis of great proportions, whose worldwide projection of its scourge occurred with federal intervention.

The Ianomamis are located in the west of the state of Roraima, on the border with Venezuela. In the map below they are represented by the yellow area.

The land dispute between invaders and indigenous peoples in the Amazon is not a new fact, but with the rise of the necro-government in 2019, the resistance of the original peoples began to face a strong formal alliance between the State and the looters.

Government agencies Funai, the Army, the Federal Police and the Federal Public Prosecution Service received dozens of reports of attacks by miners and requests for increased security by representatives of the Yanomami peoples and did nothing (Castro, 2022).

Castro (2022) stated that “All the atrocities that have been covered by the media in recent months are fully documented in the letters sent to official bodies. The frequency with which indigenous people ask for help is striking – in many cases, they are not even answered. Requests are succeeded by the worst”.

In addition to mercury pollution, prevented access to malaria treatments, cancellation of access to health, loss of access to water and healthy food, the indigenous leaders pointed out that the prospectors passed through the rivers shooting at the Yanomamis, killed children, raped young people, in a horror movie scenario (Castro, 2022).

The looting of indigenous gold has its structure and clientele in the great economic centers. In this case, Brazilian authorities must trace the path of money and goods, gold. These volumes are too big to be hidden.

The mercury used in mining is the gas chamber in this new Holocaust, whose executioners are poisoned with the victims. According to Professor of Chemistry and Environment, Rogério Aparecido Machado (2023), mercury(Hg) is used by mining to separate gold from other minerals, this process consists of depositing the material containing gold associated with mercury in a metallic dish, and with the aid of a blowtorch, evaporating the mercury to obtain gold with few impurities. In this process, it is extremely harmful to the mining worker, because when inhaling this vapor with mercury evaporates, he has his blood stream contaminated. After its use, it flows through the air and river current, reaching society through the ingestion of water or the consumption of contaminated plants and fish (Machado, 2023). For geochemist Carlos A. de Medeiros Filho (2023), mercury-dependent artisanal gold mining is the greatest source of mercury pollution on the planet.

This metal has no role in human metabolism and, in addition to being extremely difficult to extract from the human body, its toxicity is highly aggressive to the body, and can be lodged in vital organs, such as kidneys, liver and the central nervous system, in this system. Its destructive force takes away all human capacity to control their movements and reasoning, and can lead the patient to death (Machado, 2023). For children, this pollution causes physical and mental disabilities, and compromises their development (Medeiros Filho, 2023).

In the case of the Yanomami people, there is a worsening of the exposure time without any action by the authorities. But, this suffering is not restricted to these people, there are several peoples whose air, rivers, plants and fish are contaminated. An example was an investigation by Fiocruz, in partnership with WWF-Brasil, with the indigenous peoples of the middle Tapajós river, in Pará. The result of this investigation was that sixty percent of people had mercury levels above safe limits (Medeiros Son, 2023).

This process of poisoning indigenous peoples, including the Yanomami, was shown to be intentional on the part of the public authorities, as after the various proven alerts it maintained its attitude of prevarication, a crime characterized when a public person does not act to reverse a critical situation after becoming aware of it. (Castro, 2022).

Already in the first month of 2023, the task force of the federal government elected in 2022 interrupted the extermination process devised by the previous government. A great virtue of the definition of the current government lies in the indigenous representation at the first level, because in addition to the creation of the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples handed over to the management of Sônia Guajajara, FUNAI – National Foundation of Indigenous Peoples with the presidency of Joênia Wapichana and Sesai Indígenas (Special Secretariat for Indigenous Health of the Ministry of Health) on the responsibility of Ricardo Weibe Tapeba. This composition has the partnership of the important reference of the Brazilian environmental movement, Marina Silva as Minister of the Environment.

The actions of the federal task force were positive, however the concrete solution is still far away. A serious crisis is related to the “looting workers”, since the expulsion of about 40 thousand miners from the Yanomami lands did not solve the Amazon crisis, with no other option, this population migrated in search of other lands. The CIR – Indigenous Council of Roraima, grassroots indigenous organization that has been operating in all ILs in Roraima for 52 years, warned that there are at least seven other indigenous lands in Roraima threatened by the expansion of activity in the state, aggravated by the mass flight of miners from the Yanomami IL (Prestes, 2023 ).

The CIR’s denouncement had repercussions in the press, but with the aim of expanding it to concrete actions, this institution sent letters with the reports and mapping of the threats to federal agencies responsible for the task force against mining. Another CIF action was the alert to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) about the risks of gold mining invasion in Raposa Serra do Sol (Prestes, 2023). These actions demonstrate the relevance of the central role of institutions representing indigenous nations in the search for concrete solutions to overcome the crises of the Amazonian peoples. Another example of the relevance and competence of the community of indigenous peoples in overcoming these crises is the initiative of the Hutukara Associação Yanomami, which, given the lack of support actions during the necrogovernment, began monitoring the progress of illegal mining in the territory, and whose report Yanomami Under Attack is one of the documents that should support the accusation of genocide against the necrogovernment (Prestes, 2023).

The other face of the crisis is in the presence of Bolsonarism, a party connection to the network of plundering indigenous lands. Governors and parliamentarians committed to the agenda of exterminating indigenous peoples and advancing mineral extraction in the Amazon seek to reverse and inhibit punishments for socio-ecological offenders in their regions.

The advance of drugs in the region, co-opting or attacking local communities is a challenge. The communities west of the Amazon suffer from the co-option of some young people by trafficking (Waiyeīcü, 2023).

The ideological vision of the armed forces is another challenge. The inertia and resistance towards the Yanomamis can be explained by the capture of part of their command to the belief that the Yanomamis are part of an international farce, whose crisis does not exist and are just pieces used by international NGOs in a power grab in the Brazilian Amazon (ALVIM, 2023). This fallacy is recorded in the bookFarce Ianomâmi Written by the late Colonel Carlos Alberto Lima Menna Barreto and published by Editora  Army in 1995 (ALVIM, 2023). This “delusion” is publicized by Brazilian extreme right-wing networks, and widely publicized by one of the main mentors of this movement, Olavo de Carvalho (1947-2022) (ALVIM, 2023).

The figure shows the cover of this publication, whose digital version is easily found online and had 3,000 copies published in 1995 by the Army (ALVIM, 2023).

The Armed Forces had an outstanding participation in necropolitics by assuming the main positions of institutions supporting indigenous peoples, and according to a publication by the Intercept (Filho, 2023), the fact “is not that the military simply allowed mining in indigenous areas. They acted in collusion with the garimpeiros”.

In this scenario, it can explain the fact denounced by The Intercept that 85% of the baskets destined for the Yanomamis were not delivered by the Armed Forces, that is,Funai ordered 4,904 baskets to be sent to the indigenous people in February, but the Army and FAB only delivered 761 (Uzêda, 2023). Another problem reported by The Intercept was the delivery format of these baskets, that is,they are thrown from aircraft, damaging food on impact with the ground(Uzêda, 2023). The arguments of the Armed Forces was that the bad quality of the landing strips and heavy rains make it difficult for planes to arrive to transport food, in this case, the reaction of the other government sectors involved in this crisis was to work with the Ministry of Defense to reverse this scenario(Uzeda, 2023).

There was a big step towards reversing the extermination of the Yanomami people, mainly because representatives of the original peoples left the position of being represented to lead concrete actions, however there are great challenges, including because their suffering is present in other communities in the Amazon.

Monica Prestes’ warning (2023) is fundamental: “Indigenous peoples, it bears remembering, have been doing their part for 523 years: taking care of what is ours. Now, occupying spaces in government, they will have the opportunity to build new perspectives for the future, walking alongside grassroots organizations and strengthening the indigenous movement itself. But they will not make the necessary change alone, this is a construction that all of us – governments, indigenous movements and civil society – must be part of”.

To know more:

ALVIM, Mariana.  Publicado pelo Exército, livro que diz que yanomamis não existem inspirou políticas que levaram a crise humanitária. 11 fev 2023. In: https://www.bbc.com/portuguese/articles/cgxn8l41x24o

CASTRO, Carol. Governo Bolsonaro ignorou 21 ofícios com pedidos de ajuda dos Yanomami. 17 ago. 2022. In: https://theintercept.com/2022/08/17/governo-bolsonaro-ignorou-21-oficios-com-pedidos-de-ajuda-dos-yanomami/

FILHO, João. Bolsonaro recuperou projeto da ditadura militar contra os Yanomami: mão de obra ou extinção. 28 jan. 2023. In: https://theintercept.com/2023/01/28/bolsonaro-recuperou-projeto-da-ditadura-militar-contra-os-yanomami-mao-de-obra-ou-extincao/

MACHADO, Rogerio A. Contaminação por mercúrio. 2 mar 2023. In: https://www.ecodebate.com.br/2023/02/15/contaminacao-por-mercurio/ . Access at: 3 mar 2023.

MUNDURUKU, Aldo Karo et al. Consequências do Mercúrio na Saúde Humana e no Meio Ambiente. 2021. In: https://www.epsjv.fiocruz.br/sites/default/files/files/LIVRO_Mercurio_Saude.pdf

MEDEIROS FILHO, Carlos A. de. Impactos da contaminação por mercúrio dos garimpos, artigo de Carlos A. de Medeiros Filho 1 mar. 2023. In: https://www.ecodebate.com.br/2022/06/10/impactos-da-contaminacao-por-mercurio-dos-garimpos/.

PRESTES, Mônica. Inteligência Indígena a Serviço do Brasil. 15 fev 2023. In: https://umagotanooceano.org/inteligencia-indigena-a-servico-do-brasil/

UZÊDA, André; MAZIEIRO, Guilherme. Forças Armads deixam de entregar 85% das cestas de alimentos destinados aos Yanomami. 16 Fev 2023. In: https://theintercept.com/2023/02/16/forcas-armadas-deixam-de-entregar-85-das-cestas-de-alimentos-destinadas-aos-yanomami/

DisclaimerOpinions expressed in articles are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of other members of the Global Ecosocialist Network

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