HomeNewsCan Brazil Keep Illegal Miners Off Yanomami Lands?  

Can Brazil Keep Illegal Miners Off Yanomami Lands?  


Brazil’s Federal Police detected no new illegal mines on Yanomami territory for the first time since monitoring began almost three years ago. But there remain many barriers to ending illegal mining in the area. 

Operation Liberation (Operação Libertação), a satellite system used by the police to monitor Brazil’s Amazon, has detected no new mines in over a month, the longest absence since it started operating in August 2020. This follows a steady decline in new mining. In April and May 2023, the system detected 33 new mines, down from 538 during the same period in 2022.  

Illegal mining in Brazil’s northern states, such as Roraima, has had severe consequences for both the people living in the affected areas and the environment. Support from local politicians led to increases in illicit mining in recent years, while the 2018 arrival to the region of the First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC) resulted in an increased flow of arms to the miners. These were turned against Yanomami communities.  

SEE ALSO: Impunity Driving Uptick in Violence Against Yanomami in Brazil

The drop off in illegal mining sites has come after Brazil’s president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, instituted multiple reforms to curtail illicit mining, including sending additional security forces to affected areas and tightening regulations on the gold trade.

"It's fair to say that there's much less mining now because a lot of the miners the government has removed," Fiona Watson, Research Director at Survival International, an organization that campaigns for the rights of Indigenous peoples, told InSight Crime.

During his election campaign, Lula vowed to halt the environmental damage caused by illegal mining, which increased under his predecessor, Jair Bolsonaro. The former president rolled back environmental protections and encouraged the exploitation of the Amazon, leading to skyrocketing deforestation.  

InSight Crime Analysis 

The lack of new mines is another indicator that Brazil’s new policies are effectively combating the illicit gold industry, but for progress to continue, wildcat miners will need alternative economic opportunities. 

Illegal mining on Yanomami lands is logistically difficult. Moving in and out of the territory usually calls for a plane or helicopter, and the heavy machinery required for mining, including backhoes, is expensive and hard to transport. Because of these difficulties, military operations restricting movement throughout the region are immediately effective, Brazil-based journalist, Sam Cowie, told InSight Crime. 

“If you do have constant operations, as there have been this year, you will see results,” said Cowie. 

SEE ALSO: Brazil Targets Illegal Gold Miners With Force and Legislation

However, the government’s current successes may be harder to sustain in the long run. Large-scale, multi-agency deployments are costly and require political will. Even if these deployments do continue, the response fails to address the systemic and economic conditions that have allowed illegal mining to flourish, Cowie said

According to recent estimates, 46% of people in Roraima lived below the poverty line in 2022. Few economic alternatives are available, and no feasible plan for development has been forthcoming. Meanwhile, criminal groups like the PCC wait in the wings. 

Illegal miners have recently opened new mining sites in the state of Amazonas outside of Yanomami territories, showing that away from government efforts, illegal mining appears unaffected. 

As soon as anti-mining operations end, new mining sites are likely to open, Cowie said. 
“I don’t know what the answer is,” he said. “Nobody does.” 

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.


What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.


Related Content


Three FARC dissident commanders have become the first people to be charged with criminal deforestation under a new law aimed…

ECUADOR / 18 AUG 2023

InSight Crime spoke with Brotherton to learn more about the history of gang legalization in Ecuador and examine its impact…


Across the countries that share the Amazon basin, corruption that facilitates environmental crime is an open secret.

About InSight Crime


InSight Crime Contributes Expertise Across the Board 

22 SEP 2023

This week InSight Crime investigators Sara García and María Fernanda Ramírez led a discussion of the challenges posed by Colombian President Gustavo Petro’s “Total Peace” plan within urban contexts. The…


InSight Crime Cited in New Colombia Drug Policy Plan

15 SEP 2023

InSight Crime’s work on emerging coca cultivation in Honduras, Guatemala, and Venezuela was cited in the Colombian government’s…


InSight Crime Discusses Honduran Women's Prison Investigation

8 SEP 2023

Investigators Victoria Dittmar and María Fernanda Ramírez discussed InSight Crime’s recent investigation of a massacre in Honduras’ only women’s prison in a Twitter Spaces event on…


Human Trafficking Investigation Published in Leading Mexican Newspaper

1 SEP 2023

Leading Mexican media outlet El Universal featured our most recent investigation, “The Geography of Human Trafficking on the US-Mexico Border,” on the front page of its August 30…


InSight Crime's Coverage of Ecuador Leads International Debate

25 AUG 2023

This week, Jeremy McDermott, co-director of InSight Crime, was interviewed by La Sexta, a Spanish television channel, about the situation of extreme violence and insecurity in Ecuador…