Mongabay reported that Brazil’s most northern state, Roraima, is on the verge of legalizing garimpo wildcat mining, a move backed by local politicians and mining cooperatives as a way to create jobs and revenue in one of Brazil’s least developed states. BBrazilian legislators in the Amazon state of Roraima have passed a bill legalizing garimpo wildcat mining on state lands without studies. Amendments would also legalize the use of toxic mercury in gold processing, and greatly expand the legal size of mining claims. Indigenous groups say the law was passed without adequate consultation, and will invite gold miner invasions of Indigenous reserves in the state, including that of the Yanomami, the largest reserve in Brazil. The Roraima garimpo mining bill now awaits the state governor’s signature.
Human rights and Indigenous groups in the Amazon state say the measure, if signed into law, will cause irreparable damage to rivers and ecosystems on which local populations depend for food and freshwater, and will likely lead to increased invasions of Indigenous reserves, resulting in an uptick in illegal deforestation and violent conflict. Representatives of Roraima’s Indigenous Council (CIR) met with state prosecutors and delivered a document pointing out the risks of the new law. They also denounced increasing threats to indigenous leaders in Tabaio, Alto Alegre, a municipality that partially covers the Yanomami reserve.
Roraima’s mineral rich Indigenous lands, the most famous and largest of which is the vast Yanomami Territory, are already reeling from a significant rapid expansion of illegal gold mining, especially since President Bolsonaro took office in 2019. Last June, the Yanomami Hutukara Association reported that two indigenous youths were shot to death on the reserve by miners who arrived by helicopter. Then, in December, two miners were killed after they reportedly kidnapped two Indigenous teenage girls.
The Yanomami reserve has historically suffered from illicit mining incursions. In the 1980s, tens of thousands of miners invaded and anthropologists say about 14% of Indigenous people in the reserve perished from disease or related violence. In 1992 the reserve was demarcated by the Brazilian government and many miners left. But in 1993, 16 Yanomami were murdered by gold miners in a conflict dubbed the Haximu massacre.