Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has accused former President Jair Bolsonaro’s far-right administration of committing genocide against a tribal people in the Amazon where more than 500 indigenous children are believed to have died in the past few years.
The Yanomami people live in Brazil’s northern state of Roraima, which borders Venezuela and Guyana. It is the country’s largest indigenous territory, according to the Guardian. Lula visited the Amazon state on Saturday to observe the predicaments of the tribe, where government neglect and mining and logging have left the people in crisis.
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Lula’s government declared a medical emergency after hundreds of Yanomami children died from malnutrition and 16 starving people in need of urgent care needed to be airlifted, according to BBC News.
“More than a humanitarian crisis, what I saw in Roraima was a genocide,” Lula tweeted on Sunday. “A premeditated crime against the Yanomami, committed by a government insensitive to the suffering of the Brazilian people.”
Bolsonaro’s regime weakened environmental protections for the Amazonian people, and critics said his actions and disregard for the tribal people led to increased illegal activity in the region, including illegal gold mining which may have contaminated drinking water, BBC News reported.
The British-based news outlet estimates that about 20,000 illegal miners work in the Yanomami reserve. Two years ago, illegal miners opened fire with automatic weapons on the Amazonian people.
Lula, of the leftist Worker’s Party, defeated Bolsonaro in October in a tight race to become Brazil’s president. For Lula, who was the country’s president from 2003-2010 but was imprisoned in 2018 over a corruption scandal, it was a stunning return to power.
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After supporters of Bolsonaro stormed the country’s government offices in Brasilia on Jan. 8 in protest of the former president’s defeat, Lula blasted the protesters as “fanatic fascists” and tapped government forces to subdue the rioting.
The riots underscored the polarizing plight of Brazil where many Bolsonaro supporters still believe, as the former president claimed, that he only lost the election because of a software bug in Brazil’s voting machines. Authorities have since arrested more than 1,000 rioters, some of whom smashed windows and vandalized property.