Amazon leaders deliver illegal mining petition to Brazil Congress

·2-min read
Aerial view of the Esperanca IV informal gold mining camp, near the Menkragnoti indigenous territory in Brazil's Amazon basin, in August 2019

Indigenous leaders delivered a petition of more than 400,000 signatures to the Brazilian Congress on Thursday, demanding the removal of illegal miners from Yanomami land in the Amazon they say are spreading the coronavirus to vulnerable communities.

The petition had been gathered since the June launch of a campaign condemning President Jair Bolsonaro's policies supporting agricultural and mining exploration of the rainforest.

"We want the authorities to take action. We don't want to keep losing our old people, our children. We don't want to keep crying," said Yanomami leader Dario Kopenawa during an online meeting with lawmakers and organizations sympathetic to the indigenous cause.

Images of Yanomami leaders will be shown Thursday night outside the Congress building in Brasilia as part of the campaign.

With more than 174,000 deaths, Brazil has the word's highest death toll from the pandemic, after the United States.

Tribal umbrella group, the Articulation of the Indigenous Peoples of Brazil, estimates that Covid-19 has already caused more than 880 deaths and 40,000 infections among indigenous communities -- affecting 161 native peoples -- most of them in the Amazon.

"The government is rapidly creating conditions for another genocide of the Yanomami people. If the authorities don’t act now to expel the miners and stop the spread of coronavirus and malaria, the Yanomami, the Ye’kwana and several highly vulnerable uncontacted communities in the territory will see their lives shattered beyond repair," said Survival International's Fiona Watson in a statement.

Indigenous associations and NGOs claim some 20,000 illegal miners currently operate on Yanomami land, a 96,000 square kilometer (37,000 square mile)-span of jungle in northern Brazil bordering Venezuela.

Brazil's Vice President Hamilton Mourao maintains says the number of illegal miners in the region is around 3,500. Kopenawa met Mourao in July to demand the expulsion of the miners.

A report published by indigenous associations in November said cases of Covid-19 in the Yanomami Indigenous Land increased by more than 250 percent in three months, rising from 335 infections in August to 1,202 in October, with 23 confirmed or suspected deaths from the disease.

Those figures, gathered with the support of local leaders and associations in the field, exceed the 1,088 infections and 10 deaths recognized by the Health Ministry's Indigenous Health Secretariat in a December 2 report.