In a new gold rush, illegal miners clog an Amazon tributary.
According to Greenpeace, rumors of a recent gold discovery have prompted wildcat miners to choke a major Amazon river with hundreds of dredging boats in Brazil’s latest precious metals rush.
According to the Estadao newspaper, which cited Ministry of Justice sources, federal police were preparing an operation to arrest the more than 300 vessels involved in illicit mining in the Madeira River — the number might be much higher, according to the environmental group.
Following allegations that gold had been discovered in the neighboring area of the hamlet of Rosarinho, in Brazil’s northwest, Greenpeace images show lines of boats positioned side by side across the Madeira.
While illegal gold mining is frequent in the Amazon, the “atypical” operation some 100 kilometers (62 miles) from Manaus drew notice, according to Greenpeace, which asked that authorities move more quickly to stop what it called a “environmental crime.”
The photographs show the “garimpeiros,” as wildcat miners are known in Brazil, dominating the region and operating “without fear,” according to Greenpeace.
Officials are debating a plan of action, according to the police superintendent of Amazonas state, Estadao.
According to audio obtained by the publication, the dredging teams were previously aware of a planned police operation and that the illegal miners were preparing a “wall” of rafts to avoid a police takeover.
According to a report released last July by the Federal University of Minas Gerais and the Brazilian Public Prosecutor’s Office, just 34% of the 174 tons of gold mined in Brazil between 2019 and 2020 has a confirmed legal provenance.
Environmentalists have accused President Jair Bolsonaro’s ultra-right-wing government of adopting anti-environmental measures and eroding environmental laws.
Deforestation in the Amazon has increased dramatically since he took office in January 2019, owing primarily to illegal mining and cattle ranching.