Armed Gold Miners Rise Up Against Government

Armed Gold Miners Rise Up Against Government

( – Illegal Brazilian gold mining operations have targeted the country’s northern Amazonian region for years. President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva started pushing back against these “wildcat” mines shortly after taking office in January 2023 to retake control over the area and limit the resulting deforestation. With millions of dollars of illicit earnings at stake, those efforts have led to violent clashes between the government and armed gold miners.

On May 1, the Brazilian Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MMA) published a report detailing one of those armed clashes. The previous day, a team of agents from Brazil’s Institute of Environmental and Renewable Natural Resources, accompanied by Federal Highway Police officers, mounted an armed attack on a mining encampment located on the Yanomami Indigenous Reservation.

Unbeknownst to them, the wildcat miners staged an ambush, and a deadly firefight ensued. Government officials returned fire, killing four of the shooters. Federal agents seized what they described as an “arsenal” of firearms, including an assault rifle, 12mm long guns, and .45 caliber pistols. It remains unclear if any government officials died during the incident.

The government raid followed a deadly attack on Yanomami villagers. Three locals were shot during that attack. The May 1 clash is the fourth assault mounted by gold miners against federal agents and highway police officers since the government started attempting to reassume control of the region, beginning the first week of February.

The MMA reported that government officials believe one of South America’s most notorious criminal organizations, called First Capital Command, operated the mine. The Guardian recently published an article describing the group as a powerful “São Paulo-born prison gang.”

Former President Jair Bolsonaro encouraged the wildcat mining operations due to the complexity of the country’s economy. For instance, a recent report by the World Bank estimates that Brazil “needs to invest 3.7% of its GDP” to meet its goals for sustainable infrastructure by 2030. However, Lula da Silva hopes to turn the country into a “green superpower” and make up for the lost cash flow from the mines by creating an economy driven by the country’s biodiversity.

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