Amazon – mining, mercury and indigenous genocide

Image: Tom Fisk


Gold mining is illegal in indigenous lands, the disposal of mercury in nature is criminal, indigenous peoples are protected by the Brazilian Constitution, but genocide continues uninterrupted in the Legal Amazon

In the XNUMXth century, the Portuguese invaded and colonized the lands of Brazil and promoted the genocide of the indigenous peoples who inhabited the region. Until the mid-twentieth century, the swear (white aliens) had restricted themselves to occupying, basically, only the coast of the country. However, with the internationalization of productive capital that followed the Second World War, the aliens decided to transfer the country's capital to the interior, in order to take possession of the Midwest and the Amazon basin.

When the capital was transferred from Rio de Janeiro to Brasília, several indigenous ethnic groups, who had survived the persecutions and genocide perpetrated by Europeans since the “discovery” of Brazil, had to face the appropriation of lands that until then had not been coveted by the swear. The invaders, with their spurious notary offices and property titles, reversed the order of factors, behaving as if the intruders were the thousand-year-old inhabitants of these lands.

The genocide of the indigenous people, begun in the XNUMXth century, then gained new impetus. what for the swear was to occupy an empty space with a futuristic open-air museum, for the indigenous people it was the great assault on their lands in the second half of the XNUMXth century, which opened the way for the Transamazon Highway, during the military dictatorship, and today constitutes the nightmare that bleeds I live in the legal Amazon. In line with the Transamazônica, my colleague Antônio Delfim Netto, through tax incentives, distributed tracts of land in the Amazon to the country's large companies, as vacant lands, although they were inhabited by indigenous people and sertanejos who owned the land, but did not have title deeds. property.

Mining is illegal on indigenous lands and mercury is widely used in amalgamation with gold in the washing of ore in the Amazon. Mercury, metabolized by fish, when ingested by animals and humans accumulates in the nervous system and is highly toxic, leading to loss of motor coordination, irreversible damage to reproduction and, in extreme cases, death. Mercury poisoning is known as Minamata disease, diagnosed in 1956 in victims of wastewater contamination from the Japanese chemical industry Chisso.

In addition to mining on indigenous lands being illegal, the mercury used in gold mining comes from illegal commerce managed by international trafficking networks. The Brazilian Constitution recognizes the right of indigenous peoples to maintain their identity and, therefore, should protect indigenous people from invasion and exposure to the avid gold prospecting market, which has enlisted part of the indigenous population in defense of its extraction.

Studies by Fiocruz found high levels of mercury among the Yanomami peoples. Neurologist Erik Jennings, from the Special Secretariat for Indigenous Health, analyzed the levels of mercury in the blood of more than a hundred residents of Alto Tapajós. The NGO Brazil Reporter published the results of Erik's research, with 99% of the examined population presenting levels above the level considered safe by the World Health Organization, some with levels up to 15 times higher than the recommended level. Repórter Brasil also recently released the documentary Reports of a War Correspondent in the Amazon by Daniel Camargos and Ana Aranha in homage to Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira, murdered in June 2022. Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, through the program Rainforest Journalism Fund, with applications always open for new proposals, has financed the travel costs of journalists, writers and filmmakers and publicized works that portray the serious situation in the Amazon. the documentary Amazon, the new Minamata? by Jorge Bodanzky and Nuno Godolphim denounces the destructive impact of gold mining and mercury contamination in the Tapajós Valley, territory of the Munduruku, which threatens all the indigenous peoples of the Amazon.

The commodity empire, which overflows productive relations, transforms everything into a commodity, even mountains, rivers, honor, etc. Krenak says he was approached by a large supermarket chain to intermediate the production of 10 baskets. The supermarket chain thought it was doing the natives a favor by offering them work, but Krenak refused saying that the natives are not idiots, they are not followers of Fordism.

The doctrine of progress is a hoax. The commodity always justifies technical progress, hiding behind the duty to meet the needs of the poor, eternally kept poor so that they continue to justify progress. The fate of the poor is to spend basic needs amid the opulence and waste of the rich, who live surrounded by a paraphernalia of superfluous new products of the latest generation. We are going through the Era of dystopia, a society of spectacle, consumption, waste and garbage production that coexists with a population that rummages through the garbage of big cities in search of food and recyclable materials for resale.

Pedro Álvares Cabral and his companions did not request an entry visa from the indigenous authorities to land in Brazil. They didn't ask for a visa, they appropriated the lands of the natives and even went out hunting their inhabitants, a very uncourteous and uncivilized attitude of these Europeans, often justified with the pretext of civilizing the natives, forcibly imposing their truth on theirs. An attitude, we might say, even savage on the part of these immigrants. Peoples who call themselves civilized carry in their imagination that their culture is superior and enviable, and that all so-called primitive peoples would like to be civilized like them.

Leonardo Boff said that we are not satisfied with the environment, because we want the whole environment. Among the riches of the Amazon, what I would most like to see preserved is the culture of these peoples, originally from the lands of Brazil, who continue to fight for life, despite five centuries of assault and genocide. I never identified myself as an economist, despite life, on a whim, having graduated and qualified as a master, doctor and holder in economics; but I make a point of using all these credentials of mine to declare myself against economic progress. And, as I am not a native, I also insist on using the name Samuel Juruá in my presentation and correspondence with the indigenous people. I hope that we can all learn from these “primitives” to get rid of the weight and shackles of merchandise, I hope that we can once again integrate ourselves with the land, plants, animals and community life.

And where does all that gold extracted from the subsoil of the Amazon go? Incredible as it may seem, after it is mined, after all the damage it causes, this festival of horror, gold goes back underground, to the basement of central banks, because it is too heavy to be deposited on the upper floors of their headquarters. And when the Bank of Italy sells gold to Deutsche Bundesbank, gold does not travel by ship or train; nor is it carried from the pile of ingots in Italy to the pile of ingots in Germany deposited in one of the many central banks, say the Federal Reserve. Just change the nameplate on the pile of ingots Bank of Italy by a plaque that reads Deutsche Bundesbank and we're done.

*Samuel Kilsztajn Samuel Kilsztajn is a full professor at PUC-SP. Author, among other books, of Shulem, Returnees and Yiddish (

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