Brazil authorities seize aircraft of illegal miners

SAO PAOLO, 1 Feb 2023:

Brazilian authorities seized dozens of aircraft yesterday as part of a crackdown on wildcat gold miners accused of contributing to a health emergency among Yanomami indigenous people on a reserve in the Amazonian state of Roraima.

At least 24 impounded planes were being kept on the grounds of the Federal Police in Boa Vista, the state capital, while police sources said other aircraft used in illegal mining were destroyed.

The operation began after president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva signed an executive order authorising security forces to intercept any plane or boat suspected of involvement in the transport of contraband on the indigenous reserve in Roraima, an expanse of nearly 10 million hectares (22 million acres).

An estimated 20,000 wildcat miners invaded the Yanomami territory during the 2019-2023 of Lula’s right-wing predecessor Jair Bolsonaro, who often complained too much of the country’s land had been set aside for the indigenous peoples.

Bolsonaro, an admirer of Brazil’s 1964-1985 military regime, chafed at the constitutional prohibition against extractive industry on indigenous land and effectively suspended enforcement of environmental regulations in Amazonia, resulting in a dramatic increase in deforestation.

The new, centre-left government declared a health emergency on the reserve on Jan 20, a day before Lula visited Roraima to get a first-hand look at the situation.

Nearly 21,000 of the 27,000 Yanomamis living on the reserve are infected with malaria, many have been poisoned by the toxic substances used in mining and a significant proportion suffer from malnutrition.

At least 570 Yanomami children have died in recent years “from mercury poisoning, malnutrition and hunger,” according to the newly created Ministry of Indigenous Peoples.

Since the emergency declaration, dozens of Yanomamis have been airlifted by helicopter to Boa Vista, where the military set up a field hospital.

Brazil’s air force has also delivered tons of food to villages across the reserve.

Lula, a former two-term president who defeated Bolsonaro in the Oct 30 election, has called his predecessor’s policy toward the Yanomamis “premeditated murder.”

On Monday, the Supreme Court ordered the Attorney General’s Office to open an investigation of the Bolsonaro government with an eye to possible charges of genocide toward the Yanomamis.