Illegal gold mining increased to an all-time high on Brazil’s largest Indigenous reservation last year, according to a new report that included chilling accounts of miners abusing women and girls, including extorting sex from them.
According to a report released on Monday by the Hutukara Yanomami Association (HAY), the area scarred by “garimpo,” or wildcat gold mining, on the Yanomami reservation in the Amazon rainforest increased by 46 percent in 2021, to 3,272 hectares (8,085 acres).
This is the highest annual increase since data collection began in 2018.
“This is the worst period of invasion since the reservation was established 30 years ago,” said the Indigenous rights group in a report based on satellite images and interviews with residents.
“In addition to deforesting our lands and polluting our waters, illegal gold and cassiterite [a key tin ingredient] mining on Yanomami territory has resulted in an epidemic of malaria and other infectious diseases… and a terrifying uptick in violence against indigenous people.”
As gold prices have risen in recent years, illegal mining has increased in the Amazon.
According to official figures, mining destroyed a record 125 square kilometers (48 square miles) of the Brazilian Amazon last year.
Illegal miners with ties to organized crime have been accused of a slew of abuses in Indigenous communities, including poisoning rivers with the mercury used to separate gold from sediment and sometimes killing residents.
The report comes as far-right President Jair Bolsonaro pushes legislation to legalize mining on Indigenous lands, which has sparked outrage among Indigenous groups and environmentalists.
The Yanomami, one of the Amazon’s most well-known Indigenous groups, described a heinous series of abuses.
Miners gave Yanomami alcohol and drugs before sexually abusing and raping women and girls.
According to the Yanomami, miners frequently demanded sex in exchange for food. According to reports, one miner demanded an arranged “marriage” with an adolescent girl in exchange for “merchandise” that he never delivered.
“Indigenous women see the miners as a terrible threat,” HAY said, lamenting “a climate of terror and permanent fear.”
The Yanomami reservation covers 9.7 million hectares (24 million acres) in northern Brazil and is home to approximately 29,000 people, including Yanomami, Ye’kwana, and six isolated groups with little contact with the outside world.
Brazilian environmental and indigenous authorities did not immediately respond to AFP’s request for comment on the report.