Illegal gold-miners shot dead a Yekuana indigenous leader and injured his son Jan. 21 in the Brazilian state of Roraima. Yekuana man Vicente Carton and his son Ronildo had refused to take the miners up the dangerous rapids of the Uraricoera River into the Yanomami indigenous reserve. The miners shot them, and Vicente died immediately while Ronildo escaped by jumping into the river. He hid in the forest and eventually made his way back to his village.
The Yekuana live in Uaicás, a large community in the north of Yanomami territory, and in several communities just outside the reserve. They are expert river navigators, famed for their large wooden canoes.
The Yanomami have been publicly denouncing the presence of illegal miners in their land for at least a year, but the authorities have done nothing to remove them. Ronildo’s brother warns, “Miners are dangerous and they are armed.”
The Yanomami and Yekuana are only now recovering from the massive gold rush of the 1980s which decimated their population through violence and disease. After many years of pressure from the indigenous people and their supporters, the governments of Brazil and Venezuela finally recognized Yanomami land in 1992. This latest tragic incident is a clear sign that invasions are on the increase and that illegal mining activity is gaining pace once again.
Violence against indigenous people is not limited to the north of Brazil. Valmireide Zoromará, a Paresi leader, was assassinated earlier this month in the state of Mato Grosso. She was shot by ranch hands when fishing with her family. Land conflict is believed to have been the motive for her murder. CIMI, a Brazilian indigenous rights organization, reports that at least 53 Indians were killed in nine Brazilian states during 2008. (Survival International, Jan. 27)
See our last posts on Brazil and the struggle for the Amazon.