BRASILIA (Reuters) – Environmental enforcement agents deep in the Amazon rainforest swooped down on an illegal mine in a dawn raid in early November, in a campaign to tamp down on such activities that environmental groups say have reached epidemic scale.
The operation was carried out against a handful of what are now known to be hundreds of illegal Amazon mines in Brazil that have been cataloged for the first time in a study released on Monday.
The project, coordinated by Brazilian advocacy group Instituto Socioambiental, maps all illegal mines in the Amazon rainforest that sprawls across Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia.
As government helicopters descended along a river that had become stagnant pools ravaged by miners digging for gold, many of the miners fled deep into the rainforest. Shortly after, half a dozen were apprehended for questioning by camouflaged agents bearing machine guns.
The real target is not the muddy and often barefoot miners, who work in slave-like conditions for unknown local strongmen, according to agents of Brazil’s environmental agency Ibama.