Lula Airlifts Starving Tribespeople, Points Finger at Bolsonaro

Hundreds of Yanomami children have reportedly died as a result of illegal mining
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 24, 2023 7:27 AM CST
Lula Airlifts Starving Tribespeople, Points Finger at Bolsonaro
In this March 22, 1998 file photo, Yanomami children stand arm in arm in the village of Demini in the Amazon jungle, Brazil.   (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills, File)

Brazil's president has accused his predecessor Jair Bolsonaro of committing genocide against the remote Amazon tribe of Yanomami, whose territory has been infiltrated by illegal miners. President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who said he was "shocked" while visiting tribespeople in Brazil's northern state of Roraima on Saturday, declared a medical emergency and airlifted 16 starving people for treatment. "More than a humanitarian crisis, what I saw in Roraima was genocide: a premeditated crime against the Yanomami, committed by a government insensitive to suffering," he tweeted, per Time. A specialist in tropical medicine describes the situation as "catastrophic" with cases of severe malnutrition across whole families, per the BBC.

"We must hold the previous government accountable for allowing this situation to get worse to the point where we find adults weighing like children, and children reduced to skin and bones," said Minister of Indigenous Peoples Sonia Guajajara, per the BBC. Lula's government said more than 500 indigenous children have died in recent years from drinking water contaminated with mercury as a direct result of illegal mining in the nationally-protected territory home to some 28,000 indigenous people scattered in semi-permanent villages. An estimated 20,000 illegal miners now dig for gold, diamonds, and minerals there.

Bolsonaro—who before becoming president spoke of wanting to erase the tribe—is accused of emboldening illegal miners in the reserve. He weakened indigenous and environmental protections and vowed to open some territory to agriculture and mining, putting tribespeople at risk of violence and disease. "Under the Bolsonaro regime, it was a free-for-all," Susanna Hecht, a specialist on tropical development at UCLA, tells Time. "There was no regulatory state capacity or interest in controlling any of the illegal activity." Interior Minister Flavio Dino has promised an investigation while a field hospital is set up for the tribespeople. "We are going to treat our indigenous people as human beings," Lula said. (Read more Brazil stories.)

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