BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro promised a Yanomami community that he would respect their wishes to keep mining out of their reservation in the Amazon, though he said he would still seek access to other indigenous lands for commercial agriculture and mining.
In a video posted late on Sunday on social media, the right-wing president was seen listening to local indigenous leaders in Maturacá, an Amazon village at the western end of the Yanomami reservation, which is Brazil’s largest and is more extensive than Portugal.
In the meeting, which took place on Thursday, the leaders asked Bolsonaro to protect their lands from the threat of mining. A Yanomami warrior presented him with a bunch of long arrows that the president held as he spoke to the community.
“Your wishes will be respected. If you do not want mining, there will be no mining,” Bolsonaro said.
But he added that other indigenous people in the Amazon and outside the Amazon wanted to mine their land and grow crops, “and we will respect that right of theirs.”
He promised the Yanomami group that they would not be forced by law to accept mining on their lands.
“It was very good. He made a speech saying that our territory is not threatened by mining,” Jose Mario Goes, head of the Yanomami Association of the River Cauaburi and Tributaries, told Reuters by phone.
Bolsonaro did not discuss the gold rush happening at the eastern end of the Yanomami reservation, in the state of Roraima, where more than 20,000 wildcat miners have invaded protected indigenous lands, bringing in malaria and the risk of COVID-19 infections, as well as incidents of violence.
Bolsonaro visited two indigenous reservations in the Amazon on Thursday for the first time since he became head of state.
But some indigenous leaders had asked him not to visit their lands, complaining that he only met with unrepresentative chiefs in what they said was a photo opportunity for his re-election campaign next year.
Bolsonaro also inaugurated a 20-meter wooden bridge built by the Brazilian army on the Balaio reservation where the Tukano indigenous people live and where major reserves of niobium have been found.
The metal is used to make light-weight steel for jet engines and other special applications. Bolsonaro has regularly mentioned its value in speeches about the untapped riches of the Amazon that he argues Brazil must exploit.
(Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)