Cassiterite is the new threat to Yanomami indigenous people


Deforestation, mud, destroyed rivers and indigenous people under attack. While the illegal exploitation of gold in the Yanomami indigenous land, in Roraima, leaves scars on the forest, the flow of illegal miners into the territory is increasing, as they now have an extra motivation: cassiterite.

This new treasure hunt is driven by the appreciation and increasing global demand for this mineral, from which tin is extracted — used in food cans, car finishes, glass manufacturing and even cell phone screens.

“Casiterite is ruling Roraima”, says José Altino Machado, known as Zé Altino, who has been working as a prospector in the Amazon for more than 50 years and calls himself “a pioneer in the search for cassiterite”, since he led the first race for deposits in the north of the country.

“In the 1980s, I was alone in cassiterite. Everyone wanted gold. Now it’s changed, everyone wants cassiterite.”

Recent operations carried out in the state indicate that mineral exploration is growing at an accelerated pace in the indigenous land. In March, the Federal Police had seized 110 tons of cassiterite in the capital Boa Vista, a quantity that already exceeds that of 2021, when 80 tons were collected. There are no records of cassiterite seizures in previous years.

Requests for mineral research or mining for cassiterite, tin and tin ore in indigenous lands in the Legal Amazon also reveal an increase in demand for this mineral.

In 2019, there were 6 applications, increasing to 10 in 2020. In the following year, the number almost tripled, reaching 27 requests.

This year alone, until mid-April, 14 requests have already been registered. The data are from the Amazônia Minada platform, developed by InfoAmazonia, based on information from the ANM (National Mining Agency).

The pattern is repeated in the Yanomami indigenous land: of the 4 research requests made on the territory since last year, 2 are for cassiterite, 1 for tin ore and only 1 for gold — the exclusive target of all 32 requests made between 2014 and 2014. 2020

“In Homoxy [uma das áreas mais destruídas pelo garimpo]when the gold ran out, they went to cassiterite”, says Júnior Hekurari, head of Condisi-YY (Yanomami and Yekuana District Health Council). According to him, the regions of Xitei and Parafuri, close to the border with Venezuela, are also among the most damaged by illegal mining.

Sought, the government of Roraima said that the management of indigenous lands is the responsibility of the federal government, but stressed that it participates in inspection actions and operations organized by the Union when requested.

Funai, on the other hand, reported that its bases continue to carry out actions “of protection, inspection and territorial surveillance, in addition to deterring illicit acts, access control, among other activities”. The ANM, in turn, said that “no requirement for the execution of mineral activity thrives in areas with legal blockade”, such as indigenous lands.

high market

The appreciation of tin has encouraged illegal mining. In March 2021, the price of a ton of the metal fluctuated between US$ 25 thousand (R$ 117 thousand) and US$ 30 thousand (R$ 140 thousand). On March 8 of this year, it surpassed US$ 50 thousand (R$ 234 thousand).

“Tin has benefited from social isolation related to the pandemic, as many people were working from home and buying tech items,” says Daniel Briesemann, a commodities analyst at Commerzbank AG, Germany’s second-largest commercial bank.

For him, demand remains high due to the conflict in Ukraine, which drives the purchase of canned goods, in addition to generating problems in transport.

“Consumption in the world has increased a lot, and this forces the output of more ore”, says Zé Altino. “There must be around 15 buyers of cassiterite around Roraima, paying well. In my time, 1 kg was worth R$ 5, today it is R$ 100, R$ 120, R$ 160”. The mineral extracted illegally is usually sold for below market values.

“In the past, people left cassiterite behind, they didn’t pay attention”, says Vladimir de Souza, professor of geology at UFRR (Federal University of Roraima). “Over time, the miners saw that it could yield something. So people started smuggling cassiterite too.”

According to sources heard by the report, the most common destinations for illegal cassiterite from Roraima are Amazonas and Rondônia. The latter state holds the largest mineral reserves in Brazil and has a smelter in the municipality of Ariquemes.

This rise in cassiterite exploration may also be causing an increase in the number of air accidents in the region, due to the high density of the mineral — small volumes are already very heavy. Between June and December 2021, five of these incidents in Yanomami territory were reported by the press.

“A ton and a half were there, right?”, asks the narrator of a video that shows a helicopter crashed in the woods. “26 bags of cassiterite”, he then states. The images, confirmed by the report, circulated in August 2021.

Garimpeiros ‘authorize’ the landing of the health team

The balance of the rampant rush for minerals such as gold and cassiterite has a direct impact on Yanomami villages that goes beyond environmental devastation.

According to Hekurari, the Homoxi Basic Indigenous Health Unit, which was supposed to provide care to 615 residents, has been without professionals for seven months due to lack of security, since the local airstrip is controlled by miners. Deactivated, the health unit became a deposit for clandestine miners.

“On the track, they don’t let [a gente] to land, it has to ‘run’ for about 30 minutes. Asking, insisting and convincing that it is for Health”, says the indigenous man, who also says that in the region there are reports of relatives co-opted by the miners in exchange for food, ammunition, cartridges and shotguns.

Furthermore, according to a report made by the Hutukara Associação Yanomami, published last Monday (11), women, adolescents and children have been victims of sexual violence by the invaders.

The airstrip is one of the means by which prospectors access the territory, alongside ports and heliports. In the forest, the invaders create makeshift camps, with wooden sheds and plastic tarpaulins, where the most diverse businesses operate — inspections have already found beauty salons, brothels, churches and even dental offices in these mines.

The promise of enrichment that attracts legions of prospectors to the territory, however, is often nothing more than an illusion.

A cook who recently arrived at the mines in the Uraricoera region told Repórter Brasil that the picture is one of deception and suffering. According to her, stories of men who leave frustrated after months of work that do not yield anything are common.

You May Also Like

Recommended for you

Immediate Peak