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Brazil cracks down on illegal gold miners on an indigenous reserve in the Amazon

An illegal gold mine in Brazil.
Mauro Pimentel
AFP via Getty Images
An illegal gold mine in Brazil.

RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazil's new government has launched what is being billed as a mega operation to root out illegal miners from an indigenous reserve in the Amazon. The illegal miners have polluted rivers and land in the reserve, leading to widespread hunger and disease.

The new government of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva made the announcement about the massive operation at the end of January, in the hope of removing as many as 20,000 illegal gold miners now believed to be on the Yanomami reserve in northern Brazil. The Brazilian minister of defense, José Múcio, will travel to the region later in the week to oversee the operation's progress.

The miners' numbers have jumped dramatically in recent years as former President Jair Bolsonaro did little to curtail illegal activity in the Amazon.

Citing massive malnutrition and malaria among the Yanomami people, President Lula has declared a medical emergency. High levels of mercury, used to process ore, have polluted Yanomami rivers.

Hundreds of agents have been sent in to cut off fuel and food supply routes as well as enforcing a no-fly zone over the remote region.

This story originally appeared in NPR's Newscast.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on NPR.org.