BOA VISTA, Brazil — From 2,500 feet in the air, the dirt airstrip is just a crack in a seemingly endless ocean of rainforest, surrounded by muddy mining pits that bleed toxic chemicals into a riverbed.
The airstrip is owned by the Brazilian government — the only way for health care officials to reach the Indigenous people in the nearby village. But illegal miners have seized it, using small planes to ferry equipment and fuel into areas where roads don’t exist. And when a plane the miners don’t recognize approaches, they spread fuel canisters along the airstrip to make landing impossible.
“The airstrip now belongs to the miners,” said Junior Hekurari, an Indigenous health care official.
The miners have also built four other airstrips nearby, all illegally, propelling such a rapid expansion of illegal mining on the supposedly protected land of the Yanomami people that crime has grown out of control and government workers are too scared to return.
Photographs by Victor Moriyama
The New York Times no Twitter: “Hundreds of airstrips have been illegally and secretly built on protected lands in Brazil to fuel the criminal mining industry, a New York Times investigation has found. https://t.co/J35Nc53u3j” / Twitter