It’s been almost a year since President Collor ordered the dynamiting of illegal airstrips in the Yanomami territory but “Operation Free Jungle” has produced nothing but additional sorrow for the Yanomami and proved the government’s incompetence in protecting their constitutional rights.

The governor of Roraima, Ottomar de Souza Pinto, has repeatedly impeded the Federal Police’s work to rid the area of garimpeiros. He has ordered the civil and military police forces to obstruct the closing of airstrips, he paid the bail of 16 garimpeiros being held in a Roraima prison and he told penitentiary officials in Roraima not to detain any
more garimpeiros brought by federal police, who number 20 against the 1300 armed military and civil police who are controlled by the state government. Less than half of the 120 illegal airstrips in the Yanomami area have been dynamited and most of those have been reoccupied by the garimpeiros.

The governor’s actions, said Attorney-General Aristides Junqueira, are obstructing efforts by Federal Police to comply with a federal court order that requires the removal of Transparent Inflatable Commercial Tent For Sale garimpeiros from the Yanomami territory. That is why last week Junqueira requested the Regional Federal Court to intervene in the matter.

In the meantime, he has decided to suspend “Operation Free Jungle”. Federal Police and FUNAI officials said they lack the necessary funds to continue dynamiting as well as funds to pay personnel to guard the airstrips already dynamited. The Attorney-General asked Economy Minister Zelia Cardoso de Mello for the funds to continue the operation, but they have not yet been released.


After Roraima turned from federal territory to state in 1990 it was entitled to elect eight federal deputies and three senators. Those who were elected to these offices were in favor of maintaining the exploration of minerals in Roraima. Their numbers and their significant political strength call for careful watch from those who fight for the survival of the Yanomami. Federal and state deputies in the state of Roraima are following Governor Ottomar de Souza’s lead and lobbying for the maintenance of the garimpeiro reserves. They are trying to place garimpo supporters in key governmental offices that deal with indigenous issues.

One such candidate is former FUNAI anthropologist Celio Horst. Pro-garimpo representatives in Roraima and Brasilia are trying to have him chosen for the FUNAI administrative post in Boa Vista. In the late 1970s Horst was a major proponent of the division of the Yanomami territory into 19 separate areas or “islands”. He is also facing charges for the 1988 rape and torture of a Wapishina Indian girl during a FUNAI trip in Roraima.

The appointment of Tarcisio Ximenes Prado as administrator of the Funai regional office for the Northern and Western Amazon areas (which includes Roraima) was in line with Justice Minister Jarbas Passarinho’s declared policy of maintaining Funai within his Ministry and strengthening its control over all aspects of the indigenous question. Ximenes is linked to Sebastiao Amancio, “Operation Free Jungle” coordinator and well-known opponent of the presence of NGOs in the Yanomami area.

Garimpeiro leader Jose Altino Machado, who faces charges of illegally invading the Surucucus area of Yanomami territory, is also receiving considerable media attention. In an article that ran on March 29 in Brazil’s largest daily newspaper “Folha de S. Paulo”, he made inflammatory and erroneous statements about the Yanomami territory which were published on almost an entire page of the “Folha”. “Why can’t the Indians die? They have to die, like all of us,” Machado said in the article.


“Operation Free Jungle” is not the only governmental program that is failing in the Yanomami area. Health treatment for ailing Indians is still precarious. CCPY continues to give the most consistent health care in the area, although it is still insufficient for all of the Yanomami’s needs. CCPY currently sponsors the work of two nurses, a
doctor, a linguist and an anthropologist in the Demini area and two doctors in Surucucus. Since February CCPY and the Ministry of Health have also been jointly sponsoring a doctor in the Surucucus region, who has recently moved to Auaris to deal with the critical health situation there. Anthropologist Alcida Ramos, professionals from Mdecins du Monde (MDM) and a medical doctor from Brasilia, Dr Ivone Menegola, are dealing with the emergency in Auaris.

An emergency health situation in the Auaris region (in the northernmost part of Yanomami territory) this month demonstrated how sporadic medical care will not solve the health problems in the Yanomami area and that it is crucial to implement the permanent Yanomami Health Project. In the absence of any scheme of comprehensive permanent health coverage throughout the whole Yanomami area, emergencies such as that in Auaris often run out of control before medical help arrives. Villages located far from mission stations or Funai posts do not receive doctors’ visits
on a regular basis, with the result that epidemics can reach tragic proportions in the remoter areas before news of the outbreak reaches a post. An example of this is the community of Karimani, where many of the Auaris region’s 160 confirmed cases of malaria (out of a total population of less than 400) have occurred; a Yanomami woman who had lost her child was transferred to Boa Vista in a malarial semi-coma, and there are reports of children suffering from grave malnutrition with their whole families affected by malaria and unable to gather food. 90% of the 200 Yanomami currently receiving medical attention in the Auaris area have been diagnosed as suffering from malnutrition.

Despite problems such as the lacking of a helicopter small enough to land in the village, the release of emergency funds equivalent to $20,000 by the Health Ministry and contributions from CCPY and other NGOs allowed emergency work to get under way. It is clear, however, that only permanent monitoring under a comprehensive health plan will put an end to the suffering of the people of Karimani and hundreds of similar villages.

The new date set by the Health Ministry for the Permanent Health Plan is supposed to come into effect this month, though money is in critically short supply as the details of the final budget application have yet to be concluded. In addition, President Collor still has to sign a Decree sanctioning the creation of the body responsible for the project, the Health Ministry’s National Health Foundation (FNS).


Beginning April 10 Davi Kopenawa Yanomami travels to the United States accompanied by CCPY Coordinator Claudia Andujar. They will meet with officials at the United Nations, the Organization of American States and the World Bank as well as American Congressmen and the Brazilian Ambassador in Washington. They will participate in conferences at New York and Yale universities. Davi has also been invited to speak in Pittsburgh to supporters of the Catholic Consolata mission, a religious order that maintains a mission house in the Yanomami area.

The trip is sponsored by Survival International, the Museum of the American Indian of the Smithsonian Institute and other bodies linked to environmental and indigenous matters.”

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