MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Brazilian roundup

Published by MAC on 2007-12-20

Brazilian roundup

20th December 2007

There's been yet aonther invasion by gold miners (garimpeiros) of Yanomami territory in Brazilian Amazonia. The Panderey (Cintas-Largas) have also suffered at the hands of illegal diamond miners - and are striking back. However, they are not necessarily opposed to mining per se, some seeking to learn how to profit directly from the mineral wealth themselves

Illegal mining expands inside reserve despite government efforts

O Estado de S.Paulo

20th December 2007

This year the federal government has spent R$ 2 million on Operation Roosevelt, aimed at shutting down diamond mining and trade inside lands of the Cintas-Largas, in the municipalities of Espigão d'Oeste, Vilhena and Pimenta Bueno in the state of Rondônia.

Expenses on enforcement activities will jump 150% in 2008, topping R$ 5 million - equivalent to almost everything spent to date since 2004 when the operation began, soon after the tragic massacre of 29 miners killed by tribesmen. Mining continues at a frenzied pace, however, in the Roosevelt Indigenous Land.

The mining is concentrated along a small tributary of the Roosevelt River called Igarapé Lage in an area of around 200 hectares. Friday Estado reporters flew over the area and observed some 40 miners' tents.

On average, according to information from people who understand the business and who have been in the area, each tent houses ten people - including cook and tracked tractor operators, known as Pcs, used to excavate the area. There were nearly 400 people working on digging up the earth in search of diamonds, which are becoming increasingly difficult to find. Seven years ago, when the diamond rush started in the region, [diamonds] were practically outcroppings in the silty soil surface. White men and tribesmen worked side by side.

The indigenous people's main concern now, however, is to ensure control of mining and to rid themselves of the whites. Even children are mobilized.

They circulate among lines of workers with jerry cans used for tractors, 4 wheel drive vehicles coming and going, along the lighting systems and incessant mud dredging machines, from which the precious stones are carefully sieved.

Three Pcs have been spotted. One of them seemed new, and became operational in May this year, according to information from a former employee at an outpost of the National Indigenous Foundation (Funai) in the area. The inevitable questions are:: how does such a huge machine, worth roughly R$ 500,000, enter indigenous lands after the Federal Police set up a system of road blocks? How does all of the fuel continue to arrive there? How do the diamonds get out?

The most evident part of Operation Roosevelt is a series of eight road blocks - seven pitched and one mobile - set up around the Roosevelt Indigenous Land, an area of 23,000 km2, equivalent to the size of the state of Sergipe, which is home to four Cintas-Largas indigenous reserves. In addition to federal agents, State Police of Rondônia and the Federal Highway Patrol has officers in the area.

The operation is also supported by the President's Institutional Security Office, the Ministry of Defense, the National Mineral Production Department (DNPM), the Brazilian Intelligence Agency and Funai. All of this together goes under the eye-catching name, the Roosevelt Operational Group, officially instated in 2004 by President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.


Nine days ago, Cintas-Largas kidnapped five people, among them an official from the United Nations (UN) High Commission, who were visiting the main village. The kidnappers demanded that the President of Funai, Márcio Meira, come to hear their complaints of lack of healthcare, inadequate school teaching in the villages and especially the actions of the operational group. They told Meira that in addition to not stopping the miners from entering their lands, Federal Police agents are increasingly causing conflicts with the indigenous population, treating them harshly, exaggerating when searching them as they go through the roadblocks.

Having no power over the federal police, Meira called Brasília and managed to schedule the tribesmen a hearing with the Minister of Justice, Tarso Genro. The meeting, scheduled for this week, caused a certain amount of murmuring among federal policemen stationed around the reserve. In an informal conversation, one of them told reporters that the tribesmen are the ones who help the miners and their equipment in the area, using clandestine trails and roads; and that what they really want is for the roadblocks to be removed, so that they can conduct illegal mining unhindered, selling diamonds from the indigenous land. Another said that it is almost impossible to guard such a huge area.

Our reporters tried to speak to Cintas-Largas representatives for three days. One of them, who was spotted with his girlfriend at a middle-class restaurant in Cacoal, went so far as to schedule an interview for the next day but failed to show up or to give any explanation.

They say that the press usually distorts their words and is prejudiced.

According to Marcos Apurinã, Vice-Director of the Coordination Group of Indigenous Organizations in Brazilian Amazonia (Coiab), an organization that aided negotiations for the release of the UN official and the other hostages, the Cintas-Largas 'desire is to receive authorization and training to directly mine the wealth that is on their land. They say they were deceived when they made an agreement to sell the hardwood on their reserve, now practically gone, and that they have suffered much in the hands of white miners.

Despite belonging to the Apurinã tribe, as his name belies, Marcos lives with his extended family or clan on the Roosevelt Indigenous Land - because of the marriage of an Apurinã with a Cinta-Larga brave. He has therefore followed the entire discussion surrounding mining.

He said that Cintas-Largas have travelled to Canada to learn from the experience of the Cree people, who also live in an area rich in mineral resources, including oil. "They are indigenous businessmen, they draw up agreements with companies to mine their lands, backed by Canadian law. This is what we want here". It is a pipedream. And a distant one at that. In Brazil, mining on indigenous land is still forbidden because no regulations have been written, based on the article in the 1988 Constitution that addresses the subject. Meanwhile illegal mining continues along Igarapé Lage and the government spends more money on roadblocks.

Contact with white men recent

The Cintas-Largas only recently came into contact with the so-called civilization of the white man. It happened in the 1960s, when the military government financed the building of roads, burning of forests and planting of pastures heading northwards, under the slogan, "integrate to not surrender".

They were known amongst indigenous peoples as hunters and warriors. They lived in groups of huts that drew one's attention, due to the fact that they were quite tall and used sophisticated architecture. Seeing them once from the window of an airplane, the indigenist Apoena Meirelles (1949-2004), called them "thatch cities".

According to indigenist Maria Inês Hargreaves, they call themselves 'panderey' (our people). Cinta-Larga ("Wide-Belt") was the name given them by the whites, because of the wide belts made from tree bark they used to protect their abdomens during battle.

When they were counted there were nearly 5,000 of them. A few years later, disease had brought their numbers to 500. Today, with increased protection, they number nearly 2,000.

Operation is working, says police chief

In the opinion of the Operation Roosevelt coordinator, Federal Police chief Mauro Sposito, the results to date have been positive. "It is so true that those interested in mining diamonds are demanding we leave the region"...They wouldn't be doing that if we weren't bothering them."

The chief, whose official post in the Federal Police is as coordinator of Special Border Operations, said that one cannot analyze the situation without considering the broader context: "We know that mining still goes on, that there are some one hundred men working there, with a backdigger as well. You need to remember though that in late 2004 there were nearly 5,000 miners in the area."

When asked about the constant flow of equipment and fuel into the mining area in the heart of the reserve, he was adamant: "None of that could have gotten in without the help of the tribesmen." The police strategy, says Sposito, is to suffocate the mining operation: "It's working. After we took over the roads that carried fuel oil to the machines, the price of a liter in the mine area rose to R$ 7, when outside it sells for R$ 2."

Sposito also spoke of the complaints of the tribespeople regarding inspections at police roadblocks: "They go through the same process as any other people that try and enter the reserve."

Illegal goldminers invade Yanomami land - 12/14/2007

Press Release, Survival International

14th December 2007

More than a thousand illegal goldminers have invaded the land of the Yanomami Indians in Brazilian Amazonia. The alarm was raised by Yanomami living close to the areas where the miners are operating, and their presence was confirmed when a military plane flew over the area at Yanomami's request.

During the 1980s and 1990s, the Yanomami suffered hugely from goldminers invading their land. The miners shot them, destroyed villages, and exposed them to diseases to which they had no immunity. Twenty percent of the Yanomami died in just seven years.

After a long international campaign led Davi Kopenawa Yanomami, the Pro Yanomami Commission (CCPY) and Survival, Yanomami land was finally demarcated as the 'Yanomami Park' in 1992 and the miners were expelled.

The head of Brazil's Indian Affairs Department (FUNAI) for the state of Roraima, Gonzalo Teixeira, says the new wave of miners will be removed from the area in the new year. 'The presence of the goldminers has greatly increased the pollution of the rivers and the incidence of illness among the indigenous people, due to frequent contact,' says Teixeira.

Renowned leader and shaman Davi Yanomami raised the issue of illegal goldmining during a visit to the UK and Germany in October. He wrote to both British Prime Minster Gordon Brown and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, 'My Yanomami people are suffering and our future is threatened. Our land is being invaded by goldminers who pollute the rivers and bring in diseases. Yanomami are starting to die.'

Buscadores de oro ilegales invaden la tierra yanomami*

Por Fiona Watson, Survival International

11th Diciembre 2007

Más de mil buscadores de oro ilegales han invadido la tierra del pueblo indígena yanomami en la Amazonia brasileña. La voz de alarma la dieron los yanomami que viven junto a las áreas donde operan los buscadores del preciado metal, y su presencia fue confirmada por una avioneta militar que sobrevoló la zona a petición de los yanomami.

En las décadas de los ochenta y los noventa, los yanomami sufrieron enormemente por los buscadores de oro que invadían su tierra. Los mineros les disparaban, destruían poblados y les exponían a enfermedades ante las que carecían de inmunidad alguna. En tan sólo siete años el 20% de los yanomami murió. Tras una larga campaña internacional liderada por Davi Kopenawa Yanomami, por la Comisión Pro Yanomami (CCPY) y por Survival, la tierra de los yanomami fue demarcada finalmente como "Parque Yanomami" en 1992, y los mineros fueron expulsados.

El director de la agencia brasileña para asuntos indígenas (FUNAI) del estado de Roraima, Gonzalo Teixeira, dice que la nueva oleada de mineros será expulsada de la zona en el año que entra. "La presencia de los buscadores de oro ha incrementado enormemente la contaminación de los ríos y la incidencia de enfermedades entre los indígenas como consecuencia del frecuente contacto ", dice Teixeira.

El reconocido líder y chamán Davi Yanomami enfatizó el problema de la minería de oro ilegal durante una visita a Reino Unido y Alemania en octubre. Escribió al Primer Ministro Gordon Brown y a la Canciller alemana Ángela Merkel lo siguiente: "Mi pueblo yanomami está sufriendo y nuestro futuro se encuentra amenazado. Nuestra tierra está siendo invadida por los buscadores de oro que contaminan los ríos y traen enfermedades. Los yanomami están empezando a morir".

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