Brazil’s new president Lula has accused his predecessor Jair Bolsanaro of ‘genocide’ against Indigenous groups, following reports of children dying of diseases caused by illegal gold mining.
During Bolsanaro’s four years in government, the Yanomami people of the Amazon had their supposedly ‘protected’ territory ravaged by wildcat miners.
Visiting the Amazon state of Roraima on Saturday, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva denounced the disaster and promised additional help.
“More than a humanitarian crisis, what I saw in Roraima was a genocide,” he tweeted on Sunday.
“A premeditated crime against the Yanomami, committed by a government impervious to the suffering of the Brazilian people.”
While Bolsonaro was in power, 570 Yanomami children died of curable diseases - mainly malnutrition but also malaria, diarrhoea and malformations caused by mercury used by miners, the Amazon journalism platform Sumauma reported, citing data obtained by a FOI request.
Brazil's ministry of health has now declared a medical emergency in the Yanomami territory, where around 26,000 Indigenous people live.
How is the Brazilian government stopping illegal gold miners?
The news comes as the Brazilian government launches raids to stop illegal deforestation and mining in the protected reserves.
Under Bolsanaro’s presidency, an area larger than Denmark was deforested, a 60 per cent increase from the prior four years.
But President Lula has promised to crack down on illegal loggers.
He has done so in the past; Lula took office for the first time in 2003 when Amazon deforestation was near all-time highs. Through strict enforcement of environmental laws, he reduced it by 72 per cent by 2010.
On Thursday, Brazilian environmental agents cut through the rainforest with machetes on Thursday in search of criminals in the first anti-deforestation raids since the October election.
Reuters reporters accompanied raids led by environmental agency Ibama in the rainforest state of Para to stop loggers and ranchers illegally clearing the forest.
The agency also launched raids this week in the states of Roraima and Acre, Ibama environmental enforcement coordinator Tatiane Leite said.
Agents used satellite technology to locate the places where loggers and ranchers have been clearing the forest.
In 12 hours driving on dirt roads illegally crisscrossing an Indigenous reserve, the convoy reached five areas that were deforested and burned around the time of last October’s election.
They were abandoned - but things would have been different had Bolsanaro won the election, said Givanildo dos Santos Lima, the agent leading Ibama's Uruara mission.
“People know that in this government enforcement will tighten and won’t let them use an area they deforested illegally,” he explained.
“If the other government had won, you would have found people here, well-maintained pastures and cattle.”
The government under Bolsonaro had gutted staff and funding for environmental enforcement by Ibama, while the former president criticised the agency for issuing fines to farmers and miners.