Illegal gold mining surges in Brazil
RIO DE JANEIRO
The sharp rise in gold prices has driven a surge of illegal mining in Brazil, much of it in the Amazon rainforest, according to a study published on Sept. 6.
Gold output in Brazil, the world’s 14th-biggest producer last year, has soared since the coronavirus pandemic pushed international prices to record highs.
Of the 112 tons of gold produced in Brazil last year, at least seven percent was illegal and 25 percent potentially illegal, found the study from the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG).
“From 2020 to 2021, there was a 44-percent increase in the amount of illegal gold produced,” said the study.
The trend continued basically unchanged in the first six months of 2022, it found.
Lucrative profits are driving a gold rush in the Brazilian Amazon, where the amount of deforestation for mining set a record of 121 square kilometres last year, according to satellite monitoring by the national space agency, INPE.
The study found at least 23 percent of mining deforestation in the Amazon, a key buffer against climate change, was on Indigenous reservations, conservation areas and other officially protected lands.
Illegal wildcat miners with links to organized crime have violently attacked Indigenous inhabitants in some areas, and studies show the mercury they use to separate gold from sediment is contaminating rivers.
The study found the vast majority of Brazil’s illegal gold output -- 98 percent -- came from three municipalities in the northern state of Para, with the Kayapo and Munduruku Indigenous groups particularly hard-hit.
Federal prosecutors have urged President Jair Bolsonaro’s government, which faces international criticism over the accelerating destruction of the Amazon, to adopt stricter controls on the origin of gold.
Prosecutors estimate the social and environmental damages from illegal gold mining at 39 billion reais ($7.5 billion) from January 2021 to June 2022, the study said.
That is nearly equal to Brazil’s total estimated gold revenues for the period, 44.6 billion reais.
Total tax revenues from gold mining meanwhile came to less than two percent of the damages.