Illegal gold miners threaten fragile way of life, deep in Amazon rainforest

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By Gabriel Chaim, Isa Soares and Barbara Arvanitidis

Updated 1348 GMT (2148 HKT) July 19, 2021

Palimiu, Brazil (CNN)Deep successful the Amazon rainforest, the Yanomami radical are battling an aged and elusive force -- 1 they haven't seen since the 1980s.

Dressed successful accepted headdress, faces decorated with paint, this indigenous assemblage prepares its bows and spears to support their onshore against garimpeiros -- amerciable golden miners looking for glimmers of golden successful this immense and affluent territory.

Fernando, 1 of the Yanomami leaders, told CNN connected a caller reporting travel to the riverside Palimiu colony what the assemblage has been enduring for months now.

"The occupation is the equipped garimpeiros walk present astatine night," helium told CNN successful May. "There's ever tons of them. As galore arsenic 7 canoes," with 5 to 7 radical successful each.

The miners, who person acceptable up camps passim the astir 24-million acres of the Yanomami reserve -- astir the size of Portugal -- usage the waterways arsenic their thoroughfare, transporting petrol and people, arsenic good arsenic goods to their bases.

But it's seldom done quietly, says Fernando, who accuses the miners of encroaching connected Yanomami land, intimidating and firing astatine them.

Between May and June the colony suffered 5 attacks. One of them, a half-hour shootout connected May 10, was caught connected camera.

Police person  been listening to their complaints, according to the Yanomami.

The video shows women and children moving for screen arsenic a vessel passes the riverbanks of their village.

The incidental near 4 dead, including 2 Yanomami children, according to the Brazilian national police.

Nerves are high.

"These radical are ruining our land, are sidesplitting our children, they're making america suffer," Adneia, a Yanomami elder, told CNN.

With the unit connected the rise, the authorities successful precocious May called connected the national constabulary and the service to investigate.

It was a invited accomplishment for the Yanomami who person been connected precocious alert, taking turns to patrol astatine night.

The full assemblage has been enactment to work, turning paddles into weapons, bamboo into spears.

During CNN's May sojourn to the Amazon, Fernando showed the constabulary the weapons that person been their means of defence for years.

"This 1 is simply a spear. It pierces rapidly and you volition dice fast," helium says. "It goes done everything and it has venom. Lots of venom."

According to the Yanomami, amerciable mining connected their onshore has expanded by 30% successful the past year, devastating the equivalent of 500 hectares.

Disturbing aerial photos by lensman Christian Braga, taken from a Greenpeace chopper this year, amusement the unchecked enlargement of this mining connected their territory, with heavy craters shifting the precise crushed and dense wood wholly obliterated.

After years of drilling and digging, the world looks barren. The interaction of this is felt regular by this community.

"We are threatened by these bandits. This onshore is being destroyed, our trees, our fish," Ricardo, the person of the Yanomami settlement, told CNN.

Neila, a younger subordinate of the community, goes further.

"When they hunt for golden successful our land, they harm our river, our water. They are pushing distant our beasts of prey," she says.

The miners person  acceptable   up   camps passim  the 24-million acre reserve.

All they want, the Yanomami say, is to support their children and their already fragile mode of beingness -- their precise beingness arsenic the guardians of the Amazon.

The combat for onshore successful the Brazilian Amazon is not new. Ever since golden deposits were archetypal discovered, amerciable golden mining has thrived, and with it, a tendency to onslaught it rich.

There are presently an estimated 20,000 amerciable miners cutting swaths done the rainforest, digging respective meters heavy into that affluent world and polluting the stream with mercury, according to the government.

The Yanomami constituent the digit of blasted astatine Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who since taking bureau successful 2019, has supported authorities to unfastened indigenous protected areas to mining, defunded agencies liable for preventing amerciable mining, logging and ranching, undermined Indigenous rights, and repeatedly claimed that indigenous territories are "too big."

The Yanomami tribe, particularly the matriarchs, told CNN that these policies person contributed straight to the demolition they spot each time and the threats and intimidation that person go regular occurrences.

"They endanger us, and we can't sleep. Bolsonaro thinks this onshore belongs to the garimpeiros (illegal miners) but this onshore belongs to us. This onshore does not beryllium to Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro is sending the garimpeiros to us," Adneia says.

Neila doesn't clasp back, adding: "Bolsonaro, you're ignorant. And due to the fact that you're ignorant, you fto these radical travel into our land. You request to get them retired now. This is our land. This is our water, it's not your water."

The Brazilian Government told CNN that it is committed to promoting and protecting the rights of indigenous people. It besides said that alleged violations by amerciable miners successful the Yanomami's indigenous onshore are being investigated by national authorities successful aggregate operations.

"Bolsonaro, you're ignorant. And due to the fact that you're ignorant, you fto these radical travel into our land."


Bolsonaro made a travel to the country precocious wherever helium told a Yanomami assemblage helium would respect their wishes for nary mining. But critics accidental his words don't mean helium volition tackle mining, and could service alternatively to disagreement the indigenous assemblage arsenic helium pushes to legalize mining and different commercialized enterprises successful indigenous territories. Bolsonaro has pushed a measure to Congress that had been connected clasp since 2007 and would destruct amerciable mining by simply legalizing it among different changes successful indigenous onshore rights. Congress is expected to ballot connected this measure soon.

The Brazilian national constabulary and service person been listening to their complaints, according to the Yanomami.

"We anticipation the soldiers volition assistance us. They are warriors. We are protecting them arsenic they are protecting us," Fernando said.

But portion the constabulary privation to support them, they don't privation to overpromise.

Federal Police and  the service  were called successful  with unit   connected  the rise.

"We're not looking for a fight. We're present to observe and spot what's happening and to travel you. Whatever you need, we are here," 1 constabulary serviceman told the community.

The world is they can't enactment present everlastingly -- the territory is simply excessively immense for them to patrol. So, the national constabulary and service committee their chopper and statesman their hunt for amerciable miners.

From up above, the situation for them is made clearer. The Yanomami reserve sits heavy successful the immense and dense Amazon rainforest, and uncovering amerciable miners becomes a crippled of feline and mouse.

The chopper yet spots an opening and the constabulary tally to halt the miners successful their tracks.

"Federal police. Come here. Sit down here," they demand.

The miners assistance their T-shirts to amusement they're not armed, and the questioning begins. This is arsenic overmuch astir catching the criminals arsenic it is knowing however they work, who pays them and funds the devastation.

One of the amerciable miners tells the police: "Life is hard. We are present due to the fact that determination are nary jobs. If [I] americium not here, I would beryllium connected the streets. I person been moving arsenic a miner for 1.5 years and I'm not present due to the fact that I similar it. I americium present to survive."

The miner told CNN that he's been successful this excavation for 3 months but truthful acold helium hasn't seen immoderate golden gains from it yet, adding: "Miners are treated worse than bandits. 95% of the radical present person families."

The constabulary besides questioned a radical of 3 women who said they enactment arsenic cooks for the miners.

One navigator says she arrived by canoe 3 days earlier the constabulary arrived and had paid 4 grams of golden (worth astir $200) for her journey. But with enactment presently astatine a standstill, she disquieted she would conflict to gain adjacent that amount. This isn't the golden unreserved that galore had dreamed of, yet, successful the midst of a pandemic, with surging unemployment and skyrocketing golden prices, this has go Brazil's chaotic west.

Despite the grounds of amerciable golden mining each astir them, the national constabulary and service don't marque immoderate arrests and simply pain the miners' equipment. One serviceman told CNN: "I gave him a headache. It delays them. It tin halt them for a spot -- 1 oregon 2 days."

In a connection to CNN, the national constabulary accidental the cognition doesn't apprehension amerciable golden excavation workers, due to the fact that "the cognition is conscionable the archetypal measurement successful a bid of actions, focusing connected dismantling the golden miner logistics and gathering accusation connected the existent owners of the golden mines, successful summation to identifying the structures of imaginable transgression organizations involved."

    This isn't the solution the Yanomami had been pleading for. But until Bolsonaro changes his biology policies, their cries volition proceed to autumn connected deaf ears, environmentalists say; and this load of riches -- the lungs of the satellite -- risks falling with it.

    Gabriel Chaim reported from Palimiu, Brazil for CNN, portion CNN's Isa Soares and Barbara Arvanitidis wrote and besides reported.

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