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Brazil dismantles illegal mines in the Amazon

Photo by IBAMA.

In an operation that lasted a couple of days and that involved four airplanes, police officials, forest rangers and the National Guard, Brazilian authorities dismantled a number of open-pit gold and cassiterite mines operating illegally in the heart of the Amazon.

The unregulated mine sites were installed in Jamanxim and Río Novo National Parks, located in the northern Pará state and which extend for 862,000 and 538,000 hectares respectively. A $200,000-shotgun, eight hydraulic excavators, four motor pumps and other equipment were seized and destroyed. The miners’ campsites were also dismantled.

According to official information, illegal mining in the remote area generates profits of at least $120,000 per month from the sale of 1 kilogram of gold.

“This is an environmental tragedy because the mines follow the course of the river. The mercury that they use to recover gold and other elements pollutes the entire watercourse,” Roberto Cabral, who is in charge of inspections at the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Natural Resources IBAMA, told local media.

Reports from the inspection will now be forwarded to the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office who should determine criminal liability and compensation for environmental damages.

With 1.6 billion acres, the Amazon occupies 50% of the Brazilian territory and it is known as the world’s lung. Although deforestation has been slowing down since 2004, statistics from Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research INPE predict that about 55% of the rainforest could be destroyed by 2030. Cattle ranching is the leading source of deforestation in the region, with mining accounting for about 1-2% of the destruction.