Darkness in El Dorado Controversy - Archived Document

Internet Source: The Society for Latin American Anthropology, November 1, 2000
Source URL (Archive.org): http://www.aaanet.org/slaa/newsletter.htm

Yanomami: Recent Human Rights Abuses, Janet Chernela, Florida International University

Yanomami and other Amazonian peoples are currently struggling to defend themselves against abuse of their human rights and violation of their territorial integrity. Numerous groups have intruded on Yanomami lives and lands, in defiance of Brazilian legislation that protects indigenous rights.

In August 2000, Brazil's agency of indigenous affairs, FUNAI (Fundacao Nacional do Indio), acknowledged the presence of more than 1,000 goldminers within the Yanomami territory (FUNAI, personal com.). In October FUNAI publicly announced that it would enlist the Federal Police in what it calls "Operacao Ianomami," an effort to forcibly remove these illegal intruders into Yanomami lands.

Between 1987 and 1992 over 40,000 goldminers, four times the number of Yanomami in Brazil, invaded the indigenous territory, bringing disease and destruction. An effort by FUNAI and the Federal Police to remove wildcat miners in 1992 fell short of complete success. Just one year later, in 1993, miners remaining near an undestroyed air strip massacred 16 Yanomami adults and children. Although many more than two miners participated in the slaughter, two were found guilty on the grounds of genocide and are now serving prison terms. The important court decision to recognize the acts as genocidal was recently challenged by lawyers for the defense (Sept, 2000). The decision against these challenges was upheld. An international campaign launched by the Brazilian NGO CCPY (Comissao Pro-Yanomami) and assisted by the international indigenous rights community may have played a role in this decision.

The Terra Indigena Yanomami was created by Brazil in 1992. Today, in addition to goldminers, ranchers have invaded the eastern regions of the territory, and several military outposts are located alongside traditional Yanomami villages. Roads cut through the Yanomami territory, bringing alcohol and prostitution. Malaria continues to be a cause of high morbidity and mortality rates in both Brazil and Venezuela. In a recent medical study, nearly 100% of the Yanomami surveyed tested positive for onchocerciasis, also known as river blindness, brought into the area by outsiders.

These assaults deserve serious debate within our discipline, and action on the part of engaged scholars and citizens.