The Cinta-Larga indigenous group in Brazil is on the brink of collapse as they struggle to confront illegal mining in one of the world’s largest diamond deposits.
“Our land is our spirit. An indigenous person without his land is an indigenous person without a soul.” This is how one of the leaders of the Cinta-Larga tribe ends his speech at a meeting held in May to discuss new indigenous policies. Believed by the indigenous to be inseparable, the land and the soul of the Cinta-Larga suffer together: the cultural genocide and the violence against their members is the result of violations that occurred on the grounds that they consider sacred.
Beneath the indigenous reserves Roosevelt, Serra Morena, Aripuanã and Aripuanã Park, between the states of Rondônia and Mato Grosso where the Cinta-Larga live, hides what may be the world’s largest diamond deposit. The glistening of the stones began to attract illegal miners to the Lajes creek region between 1999 and 2000. The demarcated indigenous territory (which in theory can not be used for mining activity, except for informal mining conducted by the indigenous themselves) is a clearing approximately 10 kilometers wide and 2 kilometers long, in addition to an appendix called the Grota do Sossego, which also spans 2 kilometers.
However, miners and indigenous estimate the area to be larger: they say more than 1,000 hectares are used for exploratory mining.
The peak of the diamond rush in Roosevelt occurred in 2004, when there were more than 5,000 miners in the region. It was interrupted after a series of mutual threats by miners and indigenous resulted in the deaths of 29 miners. Since then, mining operations in the area have been closed and reopened several times.
“The current situation is more serious than it was in April 2004,” says Reginaldo Trindade, the state prosecutor in charge of defending the Cinta-Larga. “In March of this year, there were no less than 500 armed miners who told the Cinta-Larga that they would not leave the indigenous land.”
This was no isolated incident. Mining activities were completely suspended in May on orders from the indigenous community. In July, the area was retaken by armed miners, who returned to extracting diamonds.
World’s Largest Diamond Deposit?
Due to its status as indigenous territory, the Roosevelt reserve cannot be studied or exploited until a law that sets out specific regulations is passed. As a result, knowledge about the land today is based off estimates, all of which are below the territory’s actual potential for diamond extraction, according to experts and mining companies.
Even conservative estimates for the region are superlative. The Research and Mineral Resources Company (CPRM by its Portuguese initials), linked to the Ministry of Mines and Energy, calculates that just in the Lajes mine, it would be possible to extract 1 million karats of diamonds per year, valued at over $200 million (close to 800 million reals).
What’s more, varieties of the rare kimberlite (a type of volcanic rock in which diamonds are formed) exist in Lajes and at least 14 additional areas, according to one mining company. It would not be an exaggeration to say that there is an annual value of $3 billion lying below the earth.
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