Natural Security Series: New Mines Mean Bloodshed in Brazil

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Earlier this month, reports emerged of a massacre by illegal prospectors of approximately 20 indigenous people from the Warikama Djapar tribe in Vale do Javari, along Brazil’s border with Peru. If confirmed, it would be the deadliest incident between miners and indigenous people since the 1993 Haximu massacre. The news comes on the heels of President Michel Temer’s decree to open new areas of the Amazon to mining―either an effort to stimulate Brazil’s struggling economy, or a political move to safeguard himself from congressional investigation, depending on who you ask.  Taken together, these events remind us that in the Amazon―where lawlessness rules and resource extraction is often tied to other crimes—security is central to the question of economic growth and environmental protection.

To some extent, Brazil remains on the periphery of Latin America’s illegal mining predicament. In Colombia and Peru, where illegal mining accounts for 45 and 28 percent of the sector respectively, armed or criminal groups connected to drug trafficking control resource extraction and sometimes even the land on which it happens. This trend has been widely covered, especially since Colombia’s FARC―which infamously used gold to finance its campaign against the government―demobilized. In Brazil, by contrast, just 10 percent of the sector is illegal, and small-scale operations tend not to be connected to larger criminal enterprises. Nonetheless, there are security concerns linked to the sector, which―like most everything in Brazil—is plagued by endemic corruption.

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