Striking environmental workers threaten to quit Yanomami territory in Amazon

By Reuters

January 12, 2024 at 1:00 PM

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Striking workers at Brazil's environmental protection agencies said on Wednesday they will pull out of the Yanomami territory, the country's largest Indigenous reservation which is facing a humanitarian crisis due to invasion by illegal gold mining.

Agents of the environmental agency Ibama have been the main enforcement presence on the Amazon reservation fighting wildcat miners who resist expulsion in inaccessible jungle areas.

Staff at Ibama, at park service ICMBio and at the national forest service have been on strike over pay since last week.

They are demanding better working conditions from President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's administration to continue advancing one of his priorities: ending illegal deforestation and criminal mining on Indigenous lands that his government vows to protect.

The estimated 30,000 Yanomami people are Brazil's largest tribe still living in their traditional habitat, which was declared a federally protected reservation in 1992 and is the size of Portugal.

On Wednesday, the workers voted to focus their work "exclusively on internal and bureaucratic office activities until the government ... acts swiftly to conclude negotiations," their association said in a statement after authorities proposed a February date for a meeting to discuss the dispute.

"This decision also includes the suspension of field actions in the Yanomami Indigenous territory, given the ongoing deficiencies in working conditions and the results already achieved in environmental protection since 2023," it said.

The announcement comes shortly after President Lula said the government will spend 1.2 billion reais ($245 million) on security and assistance efforts for the Yanomami territory.

The area, which borders Venezuela, has been invaded by gold miners for decades, but the destructive incursions multiplied in recent years when former far-right President Jair Bolsonaro dismantled environmental protections.

An emergency operation launched by Lula a year ago expelled 80% of the estimated 20,000 of wildcat gold miners there.

Yanomami leaders say the illegal miners are starting to return after the army withdrew from an advanced base on the reservation, and the humanitarian crisis has continued, with disease and malnutrition on the rise among their people.

Ibama agents told Reuters they have been left alone to face the returning miners, and require greater support from Brazil's armed forces if they are to prevail in the battle against armed and well-equipped gold prospectors.

(Reporting by Ricardo Brito; Writing by Peter Frontini; Editing by Aurora Ellis)


Reuters is a news agency owned by Thomson Reuters Corporation. It employs around 2,500 journalists and 600 photojournalists in about 200 locations worldwide. Reuters is one of the largest news agencies in the world.

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