Mining and social violence in the Amazon



Posted on 31 August 2012  | 
Amazon, Brazil, Roraima Province. Yanomami hunting in rainforest near to Demini Molaca.
© Nigel Dickinson / WWF-CanonEnlarge
The current escalation in social conflicts stemming from artisanal and small-scale mining is one of the Amazon’s biggest problems today, and it seems to be particularly delicate along some of the national borders.

The Coordinating Organisation for Indigenous Organisations in the Amazon Region (COIAM), which congregates 13 Indigenous organisations in the Venezuelan Amazon, release a document about a possible massacre of indigenous people belonging to the Yanomami ethnic group. The attack on the Irotatheri community in the Upper Orinoco area, near the border between Brazil and Venezuela, was possible carried out by Brazilian artisanal gold miners who shot the Indians and set fire to their collective dwelling. This document can be downloaded here.

WWF Living Amazon Initiative express below support for the Indigenous organisations and indigenists in their appeals for urgent investigation and transparency in regard to the occurrence.

A petition asking for investigation was released by Instituto Socioambiental (ISA), a Brazilian non governamental organization, and can be signed here


WWF - Living Amazon Initiative
Brasilia, Brazil, August 31, 2012

We, the WWF Network’s Living Amazon Initiative, are shocked and exasperated by the news of the possible massacre of Indians belonging to the Yanomami ethnic group near to the Brazilian border, announced by the Venezuelan Coordinating Organisation for Indigenous Organisations in the Amazon Region (COIAM), which congregates 13 Indigenous organisations in the Venezuelan Amazon.

The current escalation in social conflicts stemming from artisanal and small-scale mining is one of the Amazon’s biggest problems today, and it seems to be particularly delicate along some of the national borders.

This is by no means a new situation, but the intensification of such frequently illegal activity conducted often in highly degrading conditions, even when supposedly legalised, has made the prevalence of insecurity and violence worse than ever for local societies. Added to that are the associated environmental problems – silting up of the rivers, mercury contamination, deforestation, biodiversity losses, and others. These are all problems that the Amazonian governments should have addressed long ago, with due attention and persistence, more effective actions to reduce the negative impacts the activity generates, and a search for solutions to quell the associated social conflicts.

The growing demand on world markets and the consequently burgeoning prices, coupled with a lack of effective government policies, have stimulated a new rush for gold and other precious minerals that is highly negative for the Amazon in general, particularly when the pressure is falling on some of the less devastated areas, on protected areas and on Indigenous Peoples lands.

The WWF Network, through its Living Amazon Initiative and the organisations and offices that make it up, has accompanied the evolution and consequences of such mining activities and conducted environmental studies and diagnoses that have been the foundation for sound proposals that would reduce the intensity of their impacts. It has appealed to governments to close down artisanal mining in protected areas and Indigenous Peoples lands, identifying situations of great tension and violence in French Guiana, Suriname, Peru and Brazil and now, once again, in Venezuela, particularly in the frontier regions.

In regard to the terrible news about the possible massacre of Yanomamis, according to the COIAM document based on the accounts of survivors, the attack on the Irotatheri community in the Upper Orinoco area near the border between Brazil and Venezuela was carried out by Brazilian artisanal gold miners who shot the Indians and set fire to their collective dwelling.

The document can be downloaded from our website and from those of other organisations active in the region or involved with these issues. It also states that such aggressions and threats have been going on since 2009 and various Venezuelan government bodies have been informed of them but no action whatever has been taken to remove miners from the area or curb the violence.

We hereby reiterate our repudiation of any threat or violent act directed at Indigenous Peoples, individuals and communities, particularly in the Amazon, and express our support to the Venezuelan and Brazilian Indigenous Peoples and indigenists organisations in their appeals for urgent investigation and transparency in regard to the occurrence which, if confirmed, deserves our heartfelt sympathy for the Yanomamis and our deepest solidarity with them.


Claudio C. Maretti
Leader of the Living Amazon Initiative
WWF Network

Amazon, Brazil, Roraima Province. Yanomami hunting in rainforest near to Demini Molaca.
© Nigel Dickinson / WWF-Canon Enlarge

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