Brazil cripples illegal gold mining operations in indigenous territory

Jeremy Hance
July 18, 2012

Airplane view of Peruvian Amazon landscape scarred by open pit gold mining. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Airplane view of Peruvian Amazon landscape scarred by open pit gold mining. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

Brazilian police have arrested 26 people and confiscated gold and aircraft in a coordinated effort to tackle illegal gold-mining in the Yanomami Indigenous Reserve, reports the BBC. Along with illegal miners the year-long investigation also arrested complicit airplane pilots, engineers, and business people in a bid to undercut the trade's funders and infrastructure.

"There was a risk of genocide due to the pressure from the miners. We already have information about confrontations between Indians and miners," a spokesperson from Brazil's indigenous department, FUNAI, said, as reported by Survival International.

The reserve where the miners operated on the border with Venezuela is home to around 20,000 Yanomami people, who have long complained of illegal gold miners in their territory.

Illegal gold mining has hit epidemic proportions in the Amazon as the price of gold rises that of price mercury, which is needed to amalgamate gold, remains low. But gold mining comes with a high environmental and social cost. Gold miners cut swathes into pristine floodplain rainforest and blast river banks looking for the precious metal: the destructive evidence of which is visible from airplane. Mercury, which often ends up in the river, contaminates fish and humans. The illicit trade has also been linked to social problems, including drug trafficking, indentured labor, and forced prostitution, including of children.

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Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com (July 18, 2012).

Brazil cripples illegal gold mining operations in indigenous territory.