Immediate eradication of illegal mining of minerals in the lands of the indigenous population - this is the call behind which the participants of this year's carnival in Rio de Janeiro have united, reports BTA.

Carnival dancers took to the city's biggest stage on Sunday night with their faces painted red in traditional indigenous fashion and percussionists had "Miners Out" written on their drum skins. 

It was part of a performance by the Salgueiro samba school in honor of the Yanomami, Brazil's largest indigenous people group. The school's moving platforms, costumes and songs were based on ancient Yanomami culture and traditions. 

Carnival in Rio de Janeiro began with the coronation of King Momo

"Salgueiro is an arrow for the people of the forest" - sang the participants of the parade as they paraded in the "Sambadrome" - the specially built for the carnival dance stadium in Rio de Janeiro. They delivered their message to more than 70,000 celebrating in the stadium and millions watching live on television. 

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is under pressure to follow through on his promises to stamp out illegal mining, especially amid a recent drop in efforts. Sunday's parade comes as Brazil marks one year since Lula declared a public health emergency for the Yanomami people of the Amazon, who suffer from malnutrition and diseases such as malaria as a result of illegal mining.

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"Our cry is a call for help from Brazil and the world at large," said Davi Copenava, a Yanomami leader and shaman who advises the samba school on how to stay true to its people and marches with Salgueiro. "My hope is that the world, after hearing our call, will put pressure on the Brazilian government to remove all miners, destroyers of our mother Earth, polluting the water and killing the fish," the shaman said.

About 30,000 Yanomami people live in Brazil's largest indigenous territory, spanning more than 9 million hectares in the northern Amazon rainforest, along the border with Venezuela.

Three weeks after taking office, Lula declared a health emergency and sent in the armed forces, doctors, nurses and food. However, in 2023, according to the Ministry of Health, more than 300 Yanomami died of various causes.

Lula quickly created a special inter-agency task force to combat illegal mining, and in 2023 Brazil's environmental agency destroyed a record 33 aircraft found on or near Yanomami territory. Agents also destroyed or impounded mining barges, fuel, chainsaws, satellite Internet devices and camping supplies. Government officials claim that since the operation began, areas of illegal mining on Yanomami territory have decreased by 85% and that the health of the indigenous population has improved. 

But after the operation's initial success, prosecutors, law enforcement and federal environmental agency officials say the illegal miners are making a comeback.

Carnival begins in Rio de Janeiro

"There is a significant reduction, but mining has not stopped. We think the miners are exploiting as much as possible because they estimate that eventually they will have to leave," Jair Schmitt, head of environmental protection at Brazil's environmental agency Ibama, told The Associated Press.

Schmidt says illegal miners have adapted to avoid law enforcement and satellite detection by working at night, setting up camps under the forest canopy and choosing old mining pits rather than clearing forests to open new ones.

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On one wing of the parade appeared dancers dressed in the dark green of the Brazilian army uniforms. Behind him moved a platform with two giant army skullcaps - clearly a critical element of the parade. Lula had promised the armed forces would play a key role in the fight, providing logistical support and security to government officials and federal agents on the ground who say they increasingly fear for their lives.

But according to political scientist Joao Roberto Martins Filho, it is not the responsibility of the military to engage in direct combat. Still, the big question is why the army, which has three permanent bases in Yanomami territory, did not raise the alarm under Lula's predecessor, Jair Bolsonaro.

"There was a massacre of an unprotected population. Why did the military allow this to happen instead of reporting it to the federal government or going to the press?” asks Martins Filho, a professor at the Federal University of Sao Carlos, adding: “In a sense, the military was complicit.” .

In a written response to the AP, the military said illegal mining and the health crisis in Yanomami territory "are complex issues involving the legal jurisdiction of various government agencies" and that the military is "always ready to carry out its strategic missions." 

But some people on the ground warn that the armed forces are no longer sufficiently involved in operations and that as a result, illegal miners have started to return.

Prosecutor Ferreira Cunha warned that violent attacks on Ibama agents and members of the federal police were increasing, with in some cases assassination attempts.

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