Gold mining in Brazil's amazon: Artisanal miners vs. mining companies

As MINING.com reported last week, illegal mining has become the "new cocaine" of Latin America.

Illicit gold extraction in Peru already generates 15% more profits than the country’s total estimated drug trafficking.

In Brazil these operations have been ongoing for half a century and the government has been pushing hard to evict the 'garimpeiros' (prospectors) – a reflection of the competing interests between mining companies and artisanal miners.

The BBC recently took a closer look at the life of these small-scale miners in Brazil's amazon.

According to the BBC's report, most of these men are not rich but have been able to scrape a better living with gold than in other industries such as fishing or agriculture.

"It's a bit like going to a casino", one miner confesses as he explain how garimpeiros will return to the mines time and time again in the hope of finding a rich vein.

Their main problem lies with uncertainty about the future of the mine itself – and the power the big mining companies have. – The BBC

Big mining companies are the garimpeiros biggest rivals. Miners claim that while they have been trying to legalize their activities for years – "taking their request as far as the federal capital, Brasilia," the BBC writes – mining companies have a much easier time getting their activities regularized with authorities.

In 2010, federal police evicted miners from the hamlet of Sao Jose on the Pacu river. As the BBC reports, a subsidiary of Canadian mining group Albrook Gold Corporation has mining rights over the subsoil in this area.

But in June 2013 the miners came back, escalating the conflict with the company.

"If they go on mining, they will make the whole project unviable for us by the damage they do," a shareholder of the Brazilian company told the BBC.

But the miners say they would be "ruined" if they can't produce gold. Many of them have been there for decades.

Artisanal mining operations are often criticized for their effects on the environment. It's estimated that illegal activities have destroyed about 40,000 hectares of rainforest in Peru alone.

Illegal mining operations are also often extremely violent. As the Guardian has reported, when miners strike a big gold deposit, their lives are in danger.

"If you find a lot of gold in the garimpos you keep quiet – very quiet. A single shout of triumph can amount to suicide," the Guardian writes.

See the full BBC story and video here.