Dozens of gold miners have invaded a remote indigenous reserve in the Amazon Rainforest of Brazil, where a local leader was stabbed to death.

Local politicians and indigenous leaders have said that the miners – known as ‘garimpeiros’ – have taken over a village after the community fled. The authorities said police were on their way to investigate.

This comes just days after the murder of community leader Emyra Waiãpi, whose body was found close to the village of Mariry on Wednesday, July 24. It appears that he was stabbed to death.

Aerial view of the Amazon rainforest
The Amazon. Photo: Wikimedia

About 50 garimpeiros were reported to have invaded the 600,000-hectare Waiãpi indigenous reserve in the state of Amapá on Saturday, causing the traditional community to flee in fear. They have now settled in the bigger village of Aramirã – where shots were fired on Saturday.

As reported by The Guardian, both Indigenous leaders and local politicians are now fearful of a potential bloodbath, calling for urgent assistance from police officers.

Tribe member Kureni Waiãpi, 26 – who lives in the nearby town of Pedra Branca do Amapari – told The Guardian:

“The garimpeiros invaded the indigenous village and are there until today. They are heavily armed, they have machine guns. That is why we asking for help from the federal police, If nothing is done they will start to fight.”

On Saturday July 27, Amapá state senator Randolfe Rodrigues raised the alarm about this crisis after receiving requests for immediate police and army assistance from local councillor and leader Jawaruwa Waiãpi.

Taking to Twitter, Rodrigues said:

URGENT. The Waijãpi in Amapá are at risk. Armed prospectors invaded the lands and killed indigenous leaders. The PF and FUNAI need to act IMMEDIATELY on pain of a major tragedy to happen.

He later tweeted:

I want to thank the director general of the Federal Police, Ranucci Júnior, for attending to our requests and relocating a PF contingent to the land of the Waijãpis, invaded by prospectors at dawn in Amapá. The situation is very serious! We are attentive to the defence of indigenous peoples.

The violence further ignites fears that right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro’s promises to open protected lands to mining and other extractive industries will have devastating consequences for indigenous communities.

On the same day that the indigenous community fled, the president publicly defended the exploitation of minerals in indigenous areas, as reported by O Globo

Kureni Waiãpi said the president had encouraged invasions like this:

“It is because he, the president, is threatening the indigenous peoples of Brazil.”

“I’m looking for the ‘first world’ to explore these areas in partnership and add value. That’s the reason for my approximation with the United States. That’s why I want a person of trust in the embassy in the USA.”

Said Bolsonaro

As reported by The Guardian, a spokesperson from Brazil’s indigenous agency FUNAI said: 

“For now there are no records of conflict, although a death has been confirmed, but no details of the circumstances. The place is difficult to access.”

An elite police troop has reportedly been sent to accompany officers who are heading over to the remote area.