Tarnished Gold: Illegal mining stokes Indigenous divisions

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RAPOSA SERRA DO SOL INDIGENOUS TERRITORY, Brazil (AP) – The mining encampment that stretches across a mountainside in Brazil´s Amazon is dotted with plastic tarpaulin covers. Under them, dozens of men toil in rocky pits, excavating sacks of ore to be transported by truck. Gold will be extracted from the ore.

Of all places this squatter settlement shouldn´t exist, it´s here: in Brazil´s northernmost Roraima state that doesn´t permit gold prospecting, inside one of the nation´s Indigenous reserves where mining activity is illegal and on the flanks of this mountain – Serra do Atola – that traditional leaders of the Macuxi people hold sacred.

Nevertheless, a recent visit by The Associated Press – at the invitation of local leaders from the Maturuca and Waromada villages – found the illegal mining site back up and running just months after authorities shut it down.

That the miners have returned in droves underscores the insatiable lure of gold and the fact they are being encouraged to keep up their work – including by the nation´s president.

Such relentless pressure is rekindling long-standing divisions in local communities here on the Raposa Serra do Sol reserve about the best path forward for their collective well-being. Some local leaders see gold mining and other extractive activities as a potential boon for the area that could bring jobs and investments in one of Brazil´s poorest states. Others see the mining as defiling the land on the reserve by polluting the waters, stripping bare the land, as well as upending centuries-old cultural traditions.

An AP investigation found that illegal landing strips and unauthorized airplanes have helped miners carry out tons of gold mined on Indigenous lands. The gold ends up in the hands of brokers, some of whom are under investigation by authorities for receiving gold from illegal mining. The gold is refined in Sao Paulo before becoming part of the global supply chain where it is used in products such as smartphones and computers.

Last March, the Amazon military command, federal police and environmental agencies raided mining operations at Serra do Atola mountain and found 400 people, excavation pits, precision scales and mercury for gold processing. Tribal leaders had previously filed complaints to prosecutors of bars, drugs and prostitution at the sacred site´s base.

The mining site is just one of several. The number of wildcat miners at sites across the reserve has surged to some 2,000, according to Edinho Batista Macuxi, general coordinator of Roraima´s Indigenous Council, the state´s primary representative body that says it represents… Nokia News – Short Summary.

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