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Indian Chief: Brazilian Miners Invading Amazon Reserves

November 23, 1990

BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) _ Thousands of gold prospectors expelled from Yanomami Indian lands have invaded other Amazon reserves and spread malaria among the tribes, an Indian chief said Thursday.

The claims were made as representatives from 12 indigenous groups of the far-western Amazon state of Roraima came to the capital in search of medical aid. The Indian chiefs also want the government to demarcate their lands and expel the miners.

Makuxi chief Jaci said Thursday that about 8,000 gold miners were spreading malaria among his 12,000-member tribe. The Makuxis, mostly farmers, inhabit a large reserve near the Venezuelan border.

The Indian leader said 154 of 990 Makuxi in four villages had been infected the last three months. Five of those had died, including his own wife.

In addition, he said 122 ranchers had also occupied large tracts of the Makuxi reserve, taking advantage of the lack of reserve markings.

Last January, the government ordered the miners off the reserve of the Yanomamis, the world’s largest primitive tribe. But since then the prospectors have poured into a region near the Guyana border in search of gold and diamonds, Jaci said.

Neither the National Indian Foundation nor the Justice Ministry would meet with the Indian chiefs on Thursday, Jaci said.

The government has said it lacks the money needed to demarcate the tribes’ lands and remove the miners by force.

″All the medical attention is given to the Yanomamis. The government has forgotten the rest of us,″ Jaci complained.

The Yanomamis are also being decimated by diseases from about 40,000 gold prospectors who have flooded into the mineral-rich region the last three years.

Brazil’s Indian Missionary Council, sponsored by the Roman Catholic Church, estimates that 1,500 of the remaining 9,000 Yanomamis have died in three years, most from malaria and sexual diseases brought by miners. Some have died in conflicts with the miners, the Council says.

The Indians’ medical situation has improved recently, according to government officials, because of an emergency health campaign that it says has cut the incidence of malaria in Indian villages from 90 percent to 18 percent.

Federal police have also begun ″Operation Free Yanomami Jungle,″ to force the miners off the Indian lands. About 140 troops are dynamiting 120 clandestine landing strips cut in the jungle and used to supply mining sites by air.

Brazil’s Indians have steadily dwindled in number since 1987, when the clandestine rush to the Amazon began after government studies indicated a wealth of gold, diamonds, tin and bauxite there.

Prospectors and landless peasants have leveled rain forests, chased off fish and game, polluted rivers with mercury used in gold panning, and spread diseases previously unknown to the tribes.

There are about 215,000 native Indians left in Brazil, down from an estimated 5 million when the Portuguese landed here in 1500.

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