BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazil’s Defense Ministry on Thursday suspended operations by environmental agents against illegal miners on an indigenous reservation in the Amazon, saying it was acting at the request of Munduruku tribe members who wanted mining on their land.
The raid by environmental protection agency Ibama began on Wednesday, destroying excavators and water pumps used by wildcat miners prospecting for gold on rivers inside the reservation in Para state.
Indigenous organizations have denounced the deforestation and poisoning of rivers caused by illegal miners, who have invaded reservations in growing numbers encouraged by right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro’s plan to develop the Amazon, including protected tribal lands.
The suspension ordered by the Defense Ministry followed a visit to the Munduruku reservation by Environment Minister Ricardo Salles to meet with miners and tribe members who favor mining.
A Defense Ministry statement said the operations on Munduruku lands were suspended “to evaluate the results in response to a request from indigenous people.”
Munduruku representatives were flown to Brasilia in an Air Force plane for a meeting at the Environment Ministry, the statement added.
Environmental protection agency Ibama did not reply to a request for comment.
Bolsonaro, who has said he plans to legalize mining on indigenous reservations currently protected by Brazil’s law, has in the past criticized the destruction of mining equipment used by wildcat miners.
Deforestation within indigenous territories in the Amazon rainforest skyrocketed in the first four months of 2020, increasing by 59% compared with the same period last year, according to a Greenpeace analysis of official data.
The environmental organization said 72% of the illegal mining in the Amazon in the first four months of this year occurred on indigenous lands or conservation areas.
In the northern Amazon, an ongoing gold rush has seen 20,000 miners invade the Yanomami reservation, threatening the environment and health of Brazil’s last major isolated tribe.
(Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)