BOA VISTA, Brazil — From 2,500 feet in the air, the dirt airstrip is just a crack in a seemingly endless ocean of rainforest, surrounded by muddy mining pits that bleed toxic chemicals into a riverbed.
The airstrip is owned by the Brazilian government — the only way for health care officials to reach the Indigenous people in the nearby village. But illegal miners have seized it, using small planes to ferry equipment and fuel into areas where roads don’t exist. And when a plane the miners don’t recognize approaches, they spread fuel canisters along the airstrip to make landing impossible.
“The airstrip now belongs to the miners,” said Junior Hekurari, an Indigenous health care official. The miners have also built four other airstrips nearby, all illegally, propelling such a rapid expansion of illegal mining on the supposedly protected land of the Yanomami people that crime has grown out of control and government workers are too scared to return.
This is just a small cluster of the clandestine airstrips pushing the illegal mining of gold and tin ore into the most remote corners of the Amazon rainforest. Carved into the dense, lush landscape, they are part of vast criminal networks that operate largely unchecked because of the neglect or ineffectiveness of enforcement and regulatory agencies in Brazil, including the military.
For the rest of this article: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2022/08/02/world/americas/brazil-airstrips-illegal-mining.html