Until 1973, the Peixoto de Azevedo River, near the border between Mato Grosso and Pará, was inhabited by isolated Indians of the Panará ethnic group. More than four decades later, the watercourse has lost forest protection and is now surrounded by hundreds of holes and exposed land left by gold mining, interspersed with pasture and soy.
Not even the creation of a gold mining reserve by the federal government in 1983, and the introduction of environmental licensing avoided the scenario of scorched earth and the persistence of illegal exploitation.
For experts and environmentalists, the region warns of the state's inability to manage and oversee the activity as the Jair Bolsonaro government promises to legalize it within indigenous lands.
"Illegal mining, uncontrolled agriculture with pesticides and, especially, the expansion of crops will dry up the river. If you don't take care of it, in 20 years the river will be dead," said the president of the local fishermen's association, Luiz Silva.
Folha flew over the Peixoto de Azevedo River between the mouth of the Teles Pires River and the BR-163 bridge near the cities of Matupá and Peixoto de Azevedo. It looks like a bombing zone, so many holes and mountains of earth and sand.
There are dozens of mines along the Peixoto de Azevedo river and its tributaries. The holdings vary in size.
The main group responsible for environmental inspection and licensing is Sema (Mato Grosso State Department of the Environment). The agency said it is unaware of the number of illegal mines and that there is no plan for the recovery of the Peixoto de Azevedo basin.
Translated by Kiratiana Freelon