Nine months after launching a major operation to dismantle extensive illegal gold mining activities in the Yanomami indigenous lands of the Amazon, the Brazilian government has achieved great success with a reduction of almost 80 percent of the territories affected by the illegal activity, the Brazilian Ministry of Defense said in a statement in November.
The operation, which began in January, has the participation of around 1,200 military service members from the Army, Navy, and Air Force, in support of personnel from public security and environmental agencies, including the Federal Police and the Brazilian Environmental Institute.
To strengthen their actions, the Ministry of Defense launched Operation Ágata Northern Border on June 21. As well as providing logistics support to federal bodies and agencies, the Armed Forces toughened enforcement activities, such as patrols, searches of people, vehicles, boats, and aircraft, and arrests in the act, among others.
In addition to severely reducing the areas where illegal mining was taking place, the authorities issued more than $11 million in fines and seized 48 tons of cassiterite, 1,859 grams of gold, and 1,120 pieces of equipment used for illegal activities, and also removed illegal camps in the region and destroyed 22 illegal mining sites.
According to the Management and Operational Center of the Amazon Protection System, in the first nine months of 2023, the area affected by illegal mining fell to 214 hectares, while in the same period in 2022, mining occupied 999 hectares. The reduction shows that the presence of miners is currently residual (they remain in small areas in the region), with an average variation of 4 hectares over the last five months.
According to the Ministry of Defense, the main rivers in the region, Uraricoera and Mucajaí, have returned to their natural colors, as the yellowish tint due to mercury dissipated. Mercury is the most common chemical element miners use that contaminates rivers and soil, affecting the Yanomami’s diet, which is based on hunting, fishing, and fruit and root gathering.
Service members also transported some 766 tons of food and supplies to the region and distributed about 36,000 basic food baskets.
“On a daily basis, actions are planned and carried out, such as transporting cargo [from the city] of Boa Vista to the indigenous communities present in the Yanomami territory, as well as actually delivering food baskets to the communities; and actions are also carried out to prevent and squash illegal mining, which culminate with the removal of miners from those lands. There are also actions to support the construction of drinking water systems, especially for the people most in need of this resource,” Brazilian Air Force Brigadier Marcelo Gobett Cardoso, chief of staff of the Ágata Northern Border Joint Command, told the media.
Since their deployment in the region, the Brazilian Armed Forces have used 17 aircraft, 14 vessels, 38 vehicles, five armored speedboats, and two ships.
“To achieve these results for the operation, we used more than 7,300 flight hours, transported more than 430 indigenous people, evicted more than 164 detainees [gold miners] from Yanomami indigenous territories, and provided 205 aeromedical evacuations and more than 3,000 medical services,” Brig. Gobett said. The operation is ongoing with no end date.