Standing on the steps of her pale blue wooden shack overlooking one of the world’s most notorious gold mines, Maria Rita Ferreira Rodrigues was so incensed she could not stop shouting.
The 58-year-old said she had lived in this house in Serra Pelada for 28 years, since it was a gold-rush town of violence, greed and intrigue amid the vestiges of the rain forest. But she had never seen anything like this.
“They humiliated us and treated us with contempt,” she said in February of the Canadian energy company Colossus Minerals, which spent $300 million over the past eight years trying to reopen the mine. “Everyone powerful here was bought by Colossus. There was not one judge, police chief or prosecutor on our side.”
Inside the perimeter of the 1.2-mile-deep mine, the entrance was unguarded. Heavy-duty equipment sat impounded by court order. Files and documents were strewn across the abandoned headquarters.
It was not what the 6,000 villagers of Serra Pelada imagined when plans to reopen the mine were first announced in 2007. The joint venture between Colossus and Coomigasp, a local democratic co-operative of thousands of gold prospectors, has faced allegations of corruption since soon after the first contract was signed that year.
Colossus, along with the leaders of the co-operative, used “cunning tricks” to deprive the “humble” prospectors — or garimpeiros in Portuguese — of a rightful share of the profits, according to federal prosecutors in a civil-court case.
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