Brazil hits out as wildfire loggers in Amazon move operations Reuters

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© Reuters. During an operation against illegal gold mining in Urupadi National Forest Park in the Amazon rainforest, carried out by agents of the Chico Mendes environmental agency ICMBio with the support of Feder, a camp of miners in an illegal gold mine was destroyed.

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Author: Adriano Machado

SUCUNDURI, Brazil (Reuters) – Deep in the Amazon rainforest (NASDAQ: ) Brazil is battling destructive wildcat gold mining that is spreading from indigenous lands into government-protected protected areas.

Federal police have joined the government’s biodiversity conservation agency ICMBio in a series of recent operations to catch illegal gold miners and destroy their camps and equipment.

The government of leftist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has already cracked down on mining in indigenous reserves. But this pushed some miners to other forests where there was little enforcement.

This month, armed officers from ICMBio, the government agency named after murdered environmental activist Chic Mendes, descended in helicopters on feral cat camps in the upper Tapajos, a tributary of the Amazon River.

They set fire to barges used to pump and filter the ore, destroyed diggers and chainsaws, and confiscated guns, radios, and scales that miners used to weigh gold.

Lula has promised to crack down on illegal logging and end deforestation by 2030. It is a sharp reversal of the policies of his predecessor, Jair Bolsonaro, who was criticized worldwide for relaxing environmental controls and giving free rein to illegal loggers and miners in the Amazon. He argued that Brazil had the right to develop its natural resources.

On one recent mission, a Reuters photographer followed an ICMBio team into the Urupadi National Forest, where agents rounded up a handful of wild miners and destroyed their tents, excavators, dredging equipment and fuel supplies.

Miners cut down swaths of jungle and dug dozens of ponds to dredge up gold, which they separated from sand and ore using mercury, a contaminant that poisons fish in rivers.

The ICMBio agents fired automatic weapons at the speedboats with the fleeing miners through the open doors of their arriving helicopter. They fired again to blow up the diesel drums and set fire to the dredges so they could not be used again.

“We destroy their camps and they keep coming back,” said mission commander Sidney Serafim.

During the three-week operation, agents found 20 mining sites and 11 secret landing pads in the forest, along with kilos of mercury and thousands of liters of diesel.

Detained miner Fabio Santos said he worked prospecting for gold in Munduruku territory further along the Tapajos River, but moved away due to law enforcement missions and conflict with indigenous people.

“We thought it would be calmer here. Bolsonaro didn’t destroy our equipment,” he said.

“It’s going downhill with the new government,” said another miner, Ramon Marques. “God left gold for us to enjoy,” he added.

The men were released into the jungle on foot. Only the manager of one of the wildcat mining sites, Manuel de Jesus Silva, was taken into police custody.

He ran a shop in a wooden shack where he sold canned goods and alcohol to the miners for grams of gold, and had a pool table outside where they could play.

“I used to make 200 grams a month, but in the last two months I only got 100 grams,” Silva complained.