By Vatican News staff writer
Gold diggers, or garimpeiros, as they are known locally, have been intruding into indigenous reserves in Brazil's Amazon region more and more, especially since President Jair Boldonaro took office in 2019 announcing his plan to open up some of the areas to mining and agriculture.
The Instituto Socioambiental (ISA), a non-profit group, estimates there are about 20,000 wildcat miners in the Yanomami territory alone.
The Yanomami are a group of approximately 35,000 indigenous people who live in some 200–250 villages in the Amazon Rainforest on the border between Venezuela and Brazil.
The indigenous reserves are one of the most effective ways to protect the Amazonia. The Amazon is the world's largest rainforest and a huge carbon store that helps slow down global warming, often dubbed as "the lung of the world".
President Bolsonaro, who is a climate change sceptic, is supported by powerful agribusiness leaders and considers these reserves to be too big for the number of people who live there and therefore an obstacle to development.
Bolsonaro, whose own father was a garimpeiro, is particularly critical of the extension of the Yanomami territory, established in 1992 in a region where vast mineral riches are located.
According to ISA, last year illegal mining devastated an area equivalent to 500 football fields on Yanomami land, and is likely to result in even more destruction this year.
Garimpeiros have also polluted rivers with mercury, which is used to separate gold from mud. They are also blamed for bringing alcohol, drugs and, most recently, Covid-19 into the communities.
Aid from the government
In Congress, the Bolsonaro government is pushing an agenda that opponents warn poses an existential threat to the Amazon and, consequently, to indigenous people.
The Chamber of Deputies is due to vote on a bill that would legalise the private occupation of public land. Another proposal could pave the way for the reduction of indigenous areas that already exist.
Earlier, this week, the Supreme Court ordered the government to take measures to protect the village and other indigenous communities, and to remove the garimpeiros from the areas.