A computer screen in Wall Street registers a rise in gold prices - An analyst writes today:
"One of the distressing things about low volume markets is when prices tank for no apparent reason, but when prices go the other way - it sure can be fun. Gold was up $16.09 in early trading to $1,635.19 and silver was up $0.44 to $29.14 dropping the silver/gold ratio all the way to 56.1. The numbers are going up so fast that even my ticker is behind this morning"
Whilst the 'distressed' gold trader is having so much fun that even his 'ticker' is behind this morning' Survival international are revealing details of a brutal massacre in the Venezuelan Amazon.
The global economic crisis of 2008 sent gold prices through the roof and investors have been seeking a safe haven during the 'down-turn'. This has exacerbated a gold rush in the South American Amazon bringing violence, disease and conflict to the mineral-rich rainforests of Brazil, Guyana, Peru, Bolivia, Colombia and Venezuela.
The Yanomami Indigenous territory covers 96,650 km2 of tropical forest across Venezuela and Brazil representing the largest forested indigenous territory in the world. The Yanomami has a total population estimated at around 32,000. This year is the 20th anniversary of the official creation of this territory which is supposed to be exclusively for use of the tribes.
Between the 1940s and the 1960s various catholic and evangelical missions, established the first points of contact with the tribes. This led to clusters of serious epidemical outbreaks as unfamiliar pathogens were introduced; mainly measles, influenza and whooping cough. Contact became significantly more frequent in the 1970s and 1980s bringing roads, colonization projects, and industry in various forms; farmsteads, sawmills, masons and the first mineral prospectors and gold miners (garimpeiros). These contacts provoked an epidemiological shock of great magnitude, causing many deaths; deterioration in health and an upset to the social relations and behaviours established over centuries.
To this day there remains some uncontacted Yanomami tribes. A large number of miners currently in the area are reported to be very close to the as yet uncontacted Moxateteu , accordingly there are serious concerns about their survival, if not by massacre then by disease.
Indigenous peoples are so often the vanguard in the fight for planetary ecology both focal & global. The Yanomami territory represents an area with some of the greatest biodiversity on the planet, great numbers of species, many as yet undiscovered and of course a huge carbon sink. Cattle ranchers are invading the territory and deforesting from the east and rivers are being polluted with mercury. The Yanomami were officially recognized for their importance in terms of protecting Amazonia's biodiversity by Presidential decree on 25th May 1992.
The slow motion, patchy genocide of the Yanomami has been underway since the 70s. During the 1980s and 1990s it is estimated that 40,000 lost their lives often with political support of varying degrees of transparency or negligence. Wikipedia defines genocide as "the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group" This definition could perhaps lead us to think the term Genocide is ill matched to the Yanomami. 'Deliberate' implies a more mindful, targeted and coordinated process. Reports of Yanomami killings are patchy over the decades, 1 or 2 here and there, one shot, 2 beaten to death with sticks, 150 of disease, 73 massacred and so on. Certainly 'deliberate' is apt to describe isolated events such as the 73 massacred in 1993 but more generally the Genocide is perhaps best understood as one of collateral damage, or another one of those 'unpaid costs'. This is proportional to the number of miners appropriating the territories (Disease & Murder) and political constraints (or lack-thereof) at the time. Both of these vectors are of course themselves subordinated by the efficient cause. The socio-economic system (capitalism) and fluctuations of Market forces therein.
Davy Kopenawa, Yanomami, health co-ordinator and spokesperson reports that there could now be over 1000 illegal miners operating inside the Yanomami reserve. He says:
"I'm worried – my people are suffering - the miners are hiring planes to come into the reserve. Their entry is constant - It is dangerous to go where they are. They are all armed - If we go near them they will kill us. We are getting information that the invaders are getting close to our lands. The Yanomami are asking for support,"
This has been corroborated by unfolding news that an attack by gold miners in the Venezuelan Amazon close to the Brazilian border has left up to 80 people dead. Survival international report that due to the community's remote location, it took those who discovered the bodies several days to walk to the nearest settlement to report what they had found. Details are slowly emerging and three survivors have been found. It appears that a large meeting place or communal house has been torched with the charred remains of the bodies inside. A statement from a network of Yanomami groups called on Venezuelan authorities to investigate the incident and to co-operate with Brazil to "control and watch the movement" of miners in the area.
The state of the global economy, the price of gold and the increasing number of miners indicate the situation is becoming increasingly more desperate. In addition the Brazilian government are currently debating a bill which, if approved, will legalise large-scale mining within the territories.
The Yanomami have not been properly consulted about these developments.
Davi Kopenawa (Featured in video below) reports:
‘The Yanomami people do not want the national congress to approve the law or the president to sign it. We do not want to accept this law - Our land has to be respected. Our land is our heritage, a heritage which protects us - Mining will only destroy nature. It will only destroy the streams and the rivers and kill the fish and kill the environment – and kill us. And bring in diseases which never existed in our land.’
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