Rumors of gold have led speculators to clog a major Amazon tributary with hundreds of dredging boats in Brazil, Greenpeace said on Wednesday.
Brazilian police were preparing an operation to stop the more than 300 vessels — the environmental group said that the number could be much higher — engaged in illegal mining in the Madeira River, the Estadao newspaper reported, citing Ministry of Justice sources.
Images provided by Greenpeace show lines of boats arranged side by side across the Madeira River, following rumors that gold was discovered in the nearby area around the community of Rosarinho, in Brazil’s northwest.
While clandestine gold mining is commonplace in the Amazon, the “atypical” operation about 100km from the city of Manaus has attracted attention, said Greenpeace, which demanded greater speed from the authorities to stop what it called an “environmental crime.”
Greenpeace said the images show that the garimpeiros, as illegal miners are known in Brazil, are dominating the area and operating “without fear.”
The police superintendent of Amazonas State told Estadao that officials are discussing a plan of action.
Audio published by the newspaper features apparent garimpeiros indicating that the dredging teams were aware of a planned police operation, and that the illegal miners were readying a “wall” of rafts to prevent a police takeover.
A report released in July by the Federal University of Minas Gerais and the Brazilian Public Prosecutor’s Office showed that just 34 percent of the 158 tonnes of gold exploited in Brazil between 2019 and last year were legal.
Environmentalists have accused Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s government of pursuing policies that have weakened protections.
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