Since January 22, 2023, the Brazilian Air Force (FAB) and the Brazilian Army (EB) have been taking part in the Brazilian government efforts to bring humanitarian aid to the indigenous Yanomami people in the Surucucu region of Roraima state. The Yanomami people are facing a humanitarian crisis with disease, violence, and hunger caused by illegal mining activities that have spread throughout their indigenous reserve. The Brazilian government has declared a state of public health emergency.
Illegal mining operations on Yanomami land, which have the protection of transnational criminal organizations such as the First Capital Command, according to a report by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, an international journalistic investigative organization specializing in organized crime, are spreading disease, violating human rights, and damaging the environment.
Illegal miners pollute the waters with mercury, clear large areas of forest to dredge for gold, killing fish and other animals and contaminating the waters on which the Yanomami depend for survival. They also fly small aircraft to clandestine airstrips to bring parts or fuel for their machinery.
According to Ministry of Health officials, in the past four years, hundreds of Yanomami children have died from malnutrition, pneumonia, malaria, mercury contamination, and lack of access to medicine. Some 11,530 cases of malaria have been confirmed among the indigenous people in 2022.
The FAB has been using its aircraft to deliver the food baskets to Yanomami territories, which are areas difficult to access. By January 31, the Armed Forces had delivered 61.1 tons of food and medicine and carried out 37 aeromedical evacuations.
The FAB has also set up a field hospital in the region, with a multidisciplinary team made up of military doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and nursing technicians. Patients in more serious conditions are being transported via air to hospitals in Boa Vista, Roraima’s capital.
“A multidisciplinary team is surveying the needs. The important thing is that the care is responsive. For example, indigenous women will be able to have a gynecological check-up and receive the results immediately,” FAB Colonel Rodolfo José Seraphico de Souza Siqueira, director of the Air Force Hospital in Manaus, said.
The Yanomami people live in the north of the Amazon rainforest, in Brazil and Venezuela. Most of them are in the states of Roraima and Amazonas in Brazil. According to the Ministry of Health, there are some 30,400 Yanomami people in Brazil.
“Mining is killing my people and also the Munduruku and Kayapo relatives. Children are more valuable than gold,” Yanomami leader Davi Kopenawa told newspaper Folha de São Paulo on January 27. He said that the situation experienced by his people now is the most serious in history. “When indigenous people get sick, they can’t work [in the fields] or hunt,” Kopenawa added.
On January 31, the Brazilian government announced measures to remove and keep miners out of Yanomami territory with the support of the Federal Police, the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Natural Resources (Ibama), the Ministry of Defense, and other agencies. The EB will be responsible for carrying out field work to identify the criminals. The Brazilian Navy will provide support with boats and river surveillance. The FAB will monitor the air space in addition to delivering donations to Yanomami people.
“Any suspicious flight will be forced to deviate its route and land on an airstrip to be identified,” said Brazilian Minister of Defense Múcio Monteiro. The Ministry of Environment is coordinating with the Ministry of Defense to maintain a permanent surveillance base to prevent the return of miners to these territories.