Illegal miners flee Yanomami reserve amid crackdown

Boa Vista, Brazil, Feb 7 (EFE).- More than 15,000 people, including the elderly, women and children, who illegally searched for gold in the Yanomami indigenous reserve in Brazil, are now fleeing the camps set up in the middle of the forest to avoid falling into the hands of Brazilian authorities.

Last week, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva ordered the withdrawal of illegal miners from the country’s largest indigenous territory, where the government found serious cases of malnutrition, malaria and other diseases caused by the toxic materials used for gold mining.

Since then, thousands of people engaged in illegal gold mining in the reserve have fled in precarious conditions via routes that can take many hours and sometimes even days to reach an urban area.

An EFE team saw a group of about 30 people coming out of one of the makeshift mines erected in the middle of the forest.

In the group, mostly made up of elderly people, there were several women and some children, many of them with malaria.

“There were another 12 people there (in the mine),” Joao Batista Rodrigues, a 61-year-old illegal miner, said.

The miner, who was looking for gold for seven months in the area, said that the Yanomami people “are starving” and that the food sent to them by the government “ran out the same day it was distributed.”

Non-governmental organizations have already warned that food aid is being appropriated by miners fleeing the reserve.

Due to the difficult access conditions, the Brazilian Air Force is distributing the basic food packages from the air, so it is not difficult for them to end up in the hands of the miners.

Rodrigues spent 20 days walking through the forest to reach the Arame port, built on the banks of Uraricoera, the main river other communities in the Yanomami Indigenous Territory use for access.

The port is located in the municipality of Alto Alegre, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) from Boa Vista, the capital of Roraima, a Brazilian state on the border with Venezuela, and is one of the main destinations of miners.

However, the miners are not leaving in boats because the government prohibited river and air transport in the area in order to monitor the departure of the “garimpeiros,” as illegal miners are known in Brazil.

The idea is to get a seat in the few all-terrain trucks, which are the only ones that can operate on the few roads fit to travel on in the area and secretly so as not to be seized by the authorities.

The conditions are worse for those who have to travel on foot, which are the majority, in the midst of the unbearable humid heat characteristic of the Amazon.

Two weeks ago, after a team from the health ministry detected thousands of Yanomami indigenous people with severe malnutrition, malaria and other diseases, Lula decreed a health emergency in the reserve.

Since then, more than 75 tons of food and medicine have been distributed, through an operation supported by the armed forces and the indigenous people.

Some 300 doctors have also been sent to the region and a field hospital has been set up, with another to be added in the coming days.

Security has been strengthened in the area and an additional 500 personnel are expected to arrive this week. EFE


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