Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Tarnished gold: Illegal mining stuns indigenous divisions Nation World News

RAPOSA SERRA DO SOL INDIGENOUS TERRITORY, Brazil ( Associated Press) – A mining camp spread across a hill in the Brazilian Amazon has been covered with plastic tarpaulins. Under these, dozens of men toil in rocky pits while excavating sacks of ore carried by truck. Gold will be extracted from the ore.

Not all places this illegal settlement should exist, it is here: in the northernmost state of Roraima in Brazil, which does not allow gold prospecting, inside one of the country’s indigenous reserves where mining activity is illegal and this mountain On the shores of – the Serra do Atola – that the traditional leaders of the Makucci people consider sacred.

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

That the miners have returned in large numbers underscores the gold’s insatiable greed and the fact that they are being encouraged to continue their work – including by the nation’s president.

Such relentless pressure is rekindling long-standing divisions in local communities about the best path forward for their collective welfare in the Raposa Serra do Sol Reserve. Some local leaders see gold mining and other extraction activities as a potential boon to the region that could bring jobs and investment to one of Brazil’s poorest states. Others see mining as polluting the land on the reserve by polluting the water, stripping away vacant land, as well as perpetuating centuries-old cultural traditions.

Associated Press investigation found That illegal landing strips and unauthorized airplanes have helped miners siphon out tons of gold mined on indigenous lands. Gold passes into the hands of brokers, some of whom are under investigation To obtain gold from illegal mining by the authorities. Before becoming part of the global supply chain, gold is refined in So Paulo, 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 on the Serra do Atola mountain and found 400 people, excavation pits, precision scales and mercury for gold processing. Tribal leaders had earlier lodged complaints with prosecutors of bars, drugs and prostitution at the base of the holy site.

The mining site is one of many. The number of wildcat miners at sites in the reserve has grown to about 2,000, according to Edinho Batista Macci, general coordinator of the Indigenous Council of Roraima, the state’s primary representative body, which it says represents about 30,000 people.

Makuxi said illegal mining operations on the reserve were financed by local non-Indigenous business owners and politicians, who owned the equipment needed to extract gold from the ore. A 2020 federal police raid on the reserve – in which four Aborigines were arrested – appears to support those allegations. Police found that the illegally extracted gold would be divided in three ways: a quarter would be paid to the owners of the equipment used to extract the gold, 4% to the local community where mining operations were active, and the remainder. Payment will be made to the miners who extracted the gold.

Macucci attributed the resilience of illegal activities to the fiery, pro-mining rhetoric of Brazil’s right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro. The President has sought to legalize prospecting of stores across the country, saying they are underutilized and should bring socioeconomic benefits to poorer areas.

“The president is most to blame,” Maxci told the Associated Press. “There are great incentives coming directly from the state.”

Macucci said Bolsonaro’s support of mining resonates with locals who favor economic development more than support from outsiders. Some people consider gold prospecting to be beneficial or are directly involved themselves.

“They are in the minority,” said Maxie. “They are used as puppets to justify these types of projects.”

Bolsonaro has said that indigenous peoples should have the right to self-determination – not only in relation to potential mining, but of all activities. He publicly opposed the designation of Raposa Serra do Sol as a protected reserve in 2005 and often held it as an example of a large scale of land mature for productive activities.

The president visited the reserve last October and, donning a traditional tribal chieftain, shared with an enthusiastic crowd of villagers his plans to introduce legislation that would support infrastructure projects such as mining, monoculture crop cultivation and dams on the reserves. will allow.

“This bill is not an imposition. It says if you want to plant, plant. If you’re going to me, you’re going to me,” he told the Fletchal community, where illegal mining also exists.

In the background, banners of the Defense Society of the United Indigenous Peoples of Roraima, which support mining on the reserve, hang on the wall. The group intends to represent 22,000 people in Roraima.

Unlike many of the reserves that are characterized by lush rainforest in the Brazilian Amazon, Raposa Serra do Sol is a mostly tropical savanna. On the border of Venezuela and Guyana, it is larger than the state of Connecticut and is home to 26,000 people of five different ethnicities.

Since the Brazilian government granted its protected status, it has been a stage for sporadic violence often fueled by disagreements over whether non-indigenous farmers can live in the area.

In November, the state’s military police vandalized checkpoints set up by the Maxxi people to protest illegal mining; Six of them were injured by rubber bullets.

When Associated Press journalists visited the reserve in the same month, they still had to pass through checkpoints aimed at warding off invaders and preventing the spread of COVID-19. The rough terrain is navigable only in a four wheeler or motorcycle.

The Associated Press also observed illegal miners working in pits on the side of the sacred mountain, which were equipped with fuel and portable generators used to power jackhammers to break the rocky surface.

From the cantonment, trucks carried sacks of rocks, which are expected to contain grains of gold, in properties outside the mining site.

There, they are put through crushing machines to extract the gold. In the vicinity, lookouts report the presence of any unknown or suspicious vehicles.

Elsewhere in the reserve, in the Mutum community along the Irang River, which is part of Brazil’s border with Guyana, two men sat on a mining barge. One held a pan to separate the gold from the sediment using mercury. The process is ubiquitous in the Brazilian Amazon and it irreversibly poisons the waterways and fisheries of local people, according to federal prosecutors and decades of research in the region, including the government’s Fiocruz Health Institute.

The president of the small pro-Bolsonaro indigenous group, Irisnaide de Souza Silva, met with the president in person, which also includes the capital, Brasilia.

He told the Associated Press that his organization is trying to launch a project to plant 30,000 hectares (74,000 acres) of soybeans on the reserve.

“We’re very focused on this project, it’s innovative,” she said.

The farming initiative coincides with a program that Brazil’s indigenous agency created under Bolsonaro, called “indigenous independence”. This enables rural producers and organizations to partner with indigenous people within the reserves to produce crops on a large scale.

The program was strongly criticized by activists, who say that ancestral lands and traditions should be preserved, and who point out that expertise and capital come from people outside the reserve.

They argue that the massive farms on the reserves stand to deepen a trend already occurring with illegal mining: outsiders reap the benefits while local communities receive the scrap, as well as environmental damage.

The indigenous agency’s press office confirmed in an email to the Associated Press that it was aware of the proposed soybean project, which is not part of its “Indigenous Freedom” initiative. The agency described its program as a means to help improve the living conditions of the villages and provide “dignity” to the local people.

Critics say that could not be farther from the truth.

A former member of the agency, now retired and consulting on issues related to isolated tribes, “it is a contemporary way of doing what was done by colonists in the 16th century and 17th century.” “What is really happening is the appropriation of indigenous lands by outsiders.”

Vaz said that if Bolsonaro’s development-oriented policies continue, the Raposa Serra do Sol could represent the future of Brazil’s indigenous lands far and wide.

“Differences exist inside any community,” he said. “Bolsonaro is fueling these differences when he only visits communities inside the region that are in favor of these projects.”


Follow Cowie on Twitter @samkovy84


Contact Associated Press’s Global Investigation Team at [email protected] or https://www.ap.org/tips/


Nation World News Desk
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