Why did hundreds of miners invade the Madeira River?

A Federal Police (PF) operation in the state of Amazonas has chased away hundreds of illegal miners who traveled to the state in search of gold. Most of the miners were berthed in the municipality of Autazes, just 113 km from the state capital, Manaus.

In November, photos and videos began circulating on the internet showing hundreds of ferries illegally mining in the Madeira river. The photos were released by environmentalists from the non-governmental organization (NGO) Greenpeace. The entity has monitored environmental crimes in the region for years.

Miners flee not to face justice

Due to the negative repercussion of the fact, Vice President Hamilton Mourão stated in a note that the Navy and the Federal Police would carry out operations in the Madeira River region to discourage the mine.

Greenpeace environmentalists, also in a note published on the official website, questioned the disclosure of this information, as, according to the NGO, they would have helped the miners to flee before the authorities arrived, preventing them from being brought to justice.

A new gold rush

The price of gram of gold has increased by 48% in the American market. (Source: Shutterstock)

Several factors have contributed to the increase in illegal mining in Brazil: the price of a gram of gold has increased by almost 50% since 2018. Furthermore, selling gold mined illegally is relatively easy.

There are several companies that buy gold legally. To sell it, the individual needs to count the origin of the ore. If he says that the origin is legal, coming from an authorized mine, the company can buy and resell the product, including exporting it, since the seller’s word is already enough to confirm the legality of the metal’s origin.

In addition, the speeches of President Jair Bolsonaro (no party) are received by the miners as a nod to the mining activity, who have said several times that the miners are one of their hobbies. Bolsonaro has also defended mining in forests and indigenous lands, which provokes anger among environmentalists and residents of these regions due to the contamination of waters by mercury.

(Source: Folhapress)(Source: Folhapress)

According to a study released by the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG), there was a significant drop in the number of environmental fines imposed by the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA). The annual average of fines dropped 43.5% in the years 2019 and 2020, when compared to the average of previous years.

This fact may also contribute to the increase in illegal mining on the Madeira River, as the federal government is responsible for inspecting the activities carried out on it, since it is a river with a border between states.

The risks of mining on the Madeira River

Mining on the Madeira River bed requires the presence of divers. These individuals tear down the river banks and suck up this earth using suction pumps. This land then goes to mats on the rafts where the gold is separated from waste. It turns out that it is not uncommon for divers to be buried under water.

Mercury contamination can make fishing unfeasible, a fundamental activity for the livelihood of the region's residents. (Source: Shutterstock)Mercury contamination can make fishing unfeasible, a fundamental activity for the livelihood of the region’s residents. (Source: Shutterstock)

For those who survive, there is a risk of mercury contamination — the element is needed to separate gold from impurities. In addition to contaminating miners, the material also contaminates river water, accumulating in living beings such as fish.

This generates a chain of contamination that harms fauna, fishermen, fish consumers and the local economy. Furthermore, soil destruction due to mining damages vegetation and impacts the local ecosystem.