Dozens of gold miners have invaded a remote indigenous reserve in the Brazilian Amazon where a local leader was stabbed to death and have taken over a village after the community fled in fear, politicians and indigenous leaders said.
The authorities said that police were on their way to investigate.
Illegal gold mining is at epidemic proportions in the Amazon and the heavily polluting activities of garimpeiros — as miners are called — devastate forests and poison rivers with mercury.
About 50 garimpeiros were reported on Saturday to have invaded the 600,000 hectare Waiapi reserve in the state of Amapa.
The men were spotted days after the murder of Emyra Waiapi, a community leader, whose body was found near the village of Mariry early on Wednesday.
Indigenous people evacuated Mariry and fled to the bigger village of Aramira, where shots were fired on Saturday.
Indigenous leaders and local politicians have called for urgent police help, fearing a bloodbath.
“The garimpeiros invaded the indigenous village and are there until today. They are heavily armed, they have machine guns. That is why we asking for help from the federal police,” said Kureni Waiapi, 26, a member of the tribe who lives in the nearest town of Pedra Branca do Amapari, two hours away and 189km from Amapa’s state capital, Macapa. “If nothing is done they will start to fight.”
“We have a very tense situation,” Pedra Branca do Amapari Mayor Beth Pelaes said, adding that the tribe is very traditional and allows only authorized visitors.
The crisis was revealed on Saturday by Brazilian Senator Randolfe Rodrigues, who received desperate audio messages pleading for police and army help from Jawaruwa Waiapi, a local councilor and leader.
Brazilian singer Caetano Veloso was among those who shared the tribe’s appeal for help.
“I ask the Brazilian authorities for help, in the name of the dignity of Brazil in the world, hear this cry,” Veloso said in a video recorded in Mexico City, where he is on tour.
Kureni Waiapi said that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has encouraged invasions like this.
“It is because he, the president, is threatening the indigenous peoples of Brazil,” he said.
Rodrigues blamed Bolsonaro’s repeated promises to allow mining on protected indigenous reserves, where it is prohibited, for the first invasion of Waiapi land in decades.
In the 1970s, the tribe was almost wiped out by disease after their land was invaded by prospectors.
In 2017, then-Brazilian president Michel Temer moved to open the vast Renca reserve the tribe’s land falls within to mining, but backed off after an international outcry.
“The Jair Bolsonaro government is encouraging this conflict, encouraging garimpeiros to enter,” Rodrigues said. “Their hands are dirty.”
Bolsonaro has compared indigenous people living traditional lives on their reserves with “prehistoric men.”
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