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Illegal wildcat mining rises in Brazil’s largest indigenous reserve

wildcat mining
Photo: Goran Safarek/Shutterstock

In 2021 alone, the destruction caused by wildcat mining inside the Yanomami indigenous territory grew by 46 percent. An area close to 10 square kilometers is already devastated by illegal operations inside Brazil’s largest indigenous reserve in the Amazon rainforest, according to a report issued by the Yanomami Association this Monday.

It is the largest devastation registered since the reservation was officially made protected indigenous land in 1992. Situated on Brazil’s northern border with Venezuela, the Yanomami reserve is larger than Hungary.  Beyond the environmental damage caused by mining, rivers became contaminated with heavy metals such as mercury, used to separate gold.

The presence of white trespassers in the area also heightens tensions with indigenous people and exposes them to disease. Last year, the Army reduced their protections of the region, and violent confrontations sprouted. 

These tensions became greater since Jair Bolsonaro took office as president in 2019. Mr. Bolsonaro promised to not grant “another centimeter” of indigenous land and supported the idea of legalizing mining on indigenous lands.