Leo DiCaprio slams Brazilian government for failing to protect Indigenous land against illegal mining

Illegal mining in Indigenous land Tenharim do Igarapé Preto, Amazonas. (Image by Vinícius Mendonça/Ibama, Wikimedia Commons).

Actor Leonardo DiCaprio has published a social media post slamming the Brazilian government for its lack of protection of Indigenous territories against artisanal mining.

In his post, DiCaprio points out that despite Brazilian laws that make mining on Yanomami Indigenous land illegal, thousands of gold miners have recently entered Yanomami Park, a nine million-hectare indigenous reserve spanning the northern states of Roraima and Amazonas. 

Based on information and images provided by Brazil’s Social Environmental Institute, the celebrity activist said gold panners are contaminating rivers with mercury and spreading malaria. 

“The invasion comes after the budget for Amazon law enforcement operations in Brazil was slashed, leaving protected areas vulnerable to exploitation,” DiCaprio’s post reads. “The last time there was an invasion of this scale was during the 1980s, when around one-fifth of the indigenous population died from violence, malaria, malnutrition, mercury poisoning and other causes.”

Leo DiCaprio slams Brazilian government for failing to protect Indigenous land against illegal mining

According to internal government data collected by opposition party Socialism and Liberty and made public by Reuters, the budget for the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources, known as Ibama, was cut by 25% this year.

Ibama is the Ministry of the Environment’s administrative arm, which means it is under the supervision of Minister Ricardo Salles who, since 2017, is the subject of a probe by São Paulo state prosecutors for allegedly altering the management plan for a protected area in the Tietê River with the intention of benefiting mining operations. 

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said earlier this month that a controversial bill allowing mining, agriculture and cattle farms on protected Indigenous reserves was ready to be sent to Congress for consideration.

Such statements and the general stand of Bolsonaro’s administration towards Indigenous peoples and the environment has resulted in some 20,000 illegal miners entering Yanomami territory, a full report published by the Social Environmental Institute states.

The situation has started to spark conflicts across the board. Latentes, a journalistic project to map conflict areas in Brazil, found that 200 conflicts are brewing on Indigenous lands.

But the Yanomami and the Ye’kwana are aiming for a peaceful approach to deal with Bolsonaro. Following a meeting of 120 leaders from 26 regions, the Social Environmental Institute reports that the northern tribes sent a letter to the executive and judicial powers outlining problems caused by illegal mining. 

Among the issues they denounced are polluted rivers and the scarcity and contamination of fish, lack of game meat, the return of malaria which, in 2019, caused six deaths along the Uraricoera River, and the lack of social and healthcare services.

In their manifesto, the Yanomami and the Ye’kwana wrote that, based on what happened 30 years ago due to the lack of protection of Indigenous territories, they fear that a new massacre could be looming and this is what they want to avoid by protesting peacefully and presenting their demands to Bolsonaro.