CREPURIZAO, Brazil (Reuters) – Informal mining in Brazil is seen by many as a scourge polluting the Amazon rainforest, poisoning indigenous tribes and robbing the nation of its wealth. For others it is a way of life.
Brazilian garimpos, or wildcat mines, are operated by small crews of men, often caked in red-brown mud and working with rudimentary pans, shovels and sluice boxes that have been used for centuries.
More sophisticated operations use water cannons and boats sucking mud from the bottoms of rivers. Regardless of the method, searching for gold and other minerals like cassiterite and niobium is dirty, dangerous and often illegal. “Looking for gold is like playing in a casino,” said a 48-year-old miner.
Miners asked not to be named, saying they feared the police as much of their work is illegal. He started in the wildcat mines as a teenager in the area around Crepurizao — a ramshackle frontier town of 5,000 with a dirt landing strip that is a gateway for informal mining in the region.
Garimpos are in the spotlight as Brazil debates opening an area known as Renca in the northern Amazon forest to mining, which has met with stiff resistance from environmentalists. Mines and Energy Minister Fernando Coelho Filho argues that licensed mining will be an improvement over the estimated 1,000 people currently mining in the reserve illegally.