Hundreds of savage miners have attacked police officers trying to stop illegal mining in the Brazilian Amazon before raiding an indigenous village and setting houses on fire, according to federal prosecutors in the northern state of Pará.
The clashes came days after a Supreme Court judge ordered the government to protect indigenous populations threatened by miners who appear to have been emboldened by President Jair Bolsonaro.
The state prosecutor’s office said the miners tried to block a federal police operation by closing the entrances to the Jacareacanga municipality on Wednesday and trying to raid a police base.
Hours later, the miners raided a village in the Munduruku people and set fire to several houses, including one that belonged to a prominent mining critic and indigenous activist, Maria Leusa Munduruku.
The attack followed clashes further north in Roraima state, where miners in motorboats have repeatedly attacked and threatened a riverine Yanomami settlement known as Palimiu. There, the miners also clashed with federal officials investigating the incidents.
Junior Hekurari Yanomami, president of a Yanomami association, said that two of the group’s children drowned while fleeing during a particularly violent clash on May 10 that also resulted in the deaths of three miners.
Federal prosecutors in Roraima have been unable to confirm any of the deaths, but said a police investigation was underway.
Clashes in the Palimiu community have escalated since April 24, when Yanomami men took fuel and some teams from the wild miners whom they accused of trespassing on their lands, Hekurari and state prosecutors said.
Hekurari said the miners had been driving their motorboats through the village almost daily, shouting threats and sometimes firing their guns.
“People don’t sleep well. They are very tired, ”Hekurari said in a call from Zoom de Palimiu. He said the Yanomami men keep watch every night.
He alleged that the miners had killed several people and raped women and girls, allegations not confirmed by state federal prosecutors, who said they were investigating.
Bolsonaro was less than 100 kilometers (60 miles) from the vast Yanomami reserve Thursday to inaugurate a small wooden bridge along a federal highway that runs near a rich deposit of the mineral niobium, which he has often touted as a potential economic advantage for Brazil.
The conservative president has been frank about his desire to legalize mining in indigenous territories, which is not allowed by the Brazilian constitution, and to promote development in the Amazon.
“It is not fair to want to criminalize the prospector in Brazil,” Bolsonaro told his supporters outside the presidential palace on May 14, according to the Estado de S Paulo newspaper.
Such comments have encouraged miners, say federal prosecutors, environmental and indigenous rights activists.
“There is a feeling of impunity in the country, that those who invade will not be punished,” said Juliana Batista, a lawyer who works at the Instituto Socioambiental, an advocacy group.
The institute says that some 20,000 illegal miners are suspected of working within the Yanomami Indigenous Territory, which is the largest indigenous reserve in Brazil and roughly the size of Portugal. About 27,000 indigenous people live on that land.
Supreme Court Judge Luis Roberto Barroso this week ordered the federal government “to immediately adopt all necessary measures to protect the life, health and safety of indigenous populations” in Yanomami and Munduruku territory. He also accused the government of “stubbornness and lack of transparency” to guarantee the health and safety of indigenous groups.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism