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Gold Rush Takes Thousands to Amazonas

11/28/2016 - 18h51

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FABIANO MAISONNAVE
SPECIAL ENVOY TO NOVO ARIPUANÃ (AM)

Rural producer Arildo Ari Mar, 72, has never liked big cities and did not want to follow his siblings as they left the Santa Rosa community for Manaus, on a boat trip of some 500 kilometers.

One month ago, however, he saw a city of gold prospectors appear in the area of the Madeira river just in front of his house.

"These boats come out of nowhere. We did not even know that there was gold here. All I know is that they tested here, stayed and later people from Humaitá, Porto Velho, arrived too," says Mr. Mar, a former rubber tapper.

In the slang of the Amazon, the phenomenon is known as gossip. A gold prospector finds a large quantity of gold and the news spreads - soon a big crowd arrives to try to find some for themselves, too.

This time, the gold rush occurred in a part of the Madeira river right in front of a community of 16 families. The area is part of the Sustainable Development Reserve (RDS) of the Madeira river, with some 283,000 hectares.

The RDS administration says that, at the beginning, during the first weeks of November, there were some 700 small boats prospecting gold.

That means a fluctuating population of 3,000 people. All of them were working illegally. As there was not enough gold for everybody, the metal started to "fail."

When Folha was in the region, in mid-November, nearly half of the illegal boats had already left.

On the other hand, there were four large dredgers operating, which had recently arrived in the region - the dredges have a capacity to process the same amount as several prospecting boats.

The invasion led to problems for the local residents immediately. Due to the contamination, they began to buy gallons of water in the nearest city, Novo Aripuanã, some 40 kilometers from the area.

On the school boat, the children, most of them evangelical, saw naked women on a floating brothel, which is parked a few meters from the houses. The sound of working engines is nonstop.

The banana plantations, the local residents' main source of income, became bathrooms for the prospectors. Also fishing was suspended.

So far, the inspection actions have been isolated and led to poor results. The state secretary for the environment, Antônio Stroski, told Folha that major command and control actions in the Amazon are slow because of the long distances and high costs.

However, the federal government is drawing up an operation.

Translated by THOMAS MUELLO

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