Cooperatives have nearly doubled orders to mine for gold in the Amazon since 2019

An area the size of the state of Rio de Janeiro (4.4 million hectares) has been requested since 2019 by cooperatives to the exploration of gold in the Legal Amazon.

Requests are made under a simplified mining regime, called PLG (Permissão de Lavra Garimpeira), which represents socio-environmental risks and has the potential to cause market distortions of ore extraction.

It is a new gold rush, led by miners cooperatives and stimulated by President Jair Bolsonaro (PL).

De January 2019 to September 2019, the number of requests of this type for gold exploration made by cooperatives in the Legal Amazon almost doubled: it increased 73%, from 1.197 from 2018 to 2018 to 2.0024 in the last three years.

The rise in the price of gold explains, in part, this interest nsified: the metal price went from R$ 100, at the end of 2018, for R$ 300 in August 2019. Since then, it has practically not dropped from the level of R$ 300.

In theory, the increase in the participation of cooperatives in the Brazilian mining sector would not be a reason for concern. “A mining cooperative is formed by miners and small miners who organize themselves to have a decent life, improve their processes and carry out an activity within environmental norms”, explains Alex Macedo, technical and economic analyst at the OCB (Organização das Cooperativas Brasileiras ).

With the justification of guaranteeing job and income opportunities to miners, the laws that regulate the sector offer bureaucratic facilities to cooperatives.

On 90% of orders placed since 2019, the cooperatives availed themselves of PLGs, a simplified application type, which exempts the carrying out of prior research and full environmental licensing. It is also a cheaper procedure: the National Mining Agency (ANM) charges a fee of R$ 295,15 per PLG, against BRL 1.10,73 from a traditional request.

“The Federal Constitution protects the figure of the prospector, especially the cooperative, evoking the image of artisanal prospecting. But today, the Gold extraction in the Amazon uses machinery and technology that are incompatible with this idea of ​​rudimentaryity”, observes prosecutor Ana Carolina Haliuc, from the MPF (Federal Ministry) of Amazonas, coordinator of the Amazon task force.

PLG is an option prohibited to mining companies, but there are cooperatives requiring areas under this system almost as extensive as those of large companies operating in the Brazilian territory.

InfoAmazonia report, published in October by Folha, showed how the newly created Cooperativa do s Mineradores do Vale do Guaporé already competes, in the size of the required area, with multinational giants such as Vale, Nexa Resources and Anglo American.

“This could generate an illegal advantage in the dispute for areas with mining companies, because cooperatives are not subject to the same socio-environmental obligations as traditional companies. They do not need, for example, to present complex environmental studies, such as the EIA-Rima”, assesses the Federal Attorney Paulo de Tarso Moreira Oliveira, who works in Pará.

More than

% of the gold exploration area contained in PLG requests made since 2020 are concentrated in 024 cooperatives founded in the same period, evidencing this recent movement.

Another advantage of having a mining cooperative is the size of the area to be requested. While individuals or individual companies can apply, at the most, 60 hectares, cooperatives are entitled to ask for up to 10 thousand hectares per PLG in the Legal Amazon.

However, some entities are trying to explore areas much larger, requiring several PLGs stuck together.

“It’s a way of circumventing the limit”, denounces prosecutor Oliveira.

When sought after, the ANM revealed that it is studying a change in legislation to “meet the technical, environmental and social demands that arise”. One of the proposals under discussion is to limit the maximum area to be required by PLG in the Legal Amazon to one thousand hectares.

Of the 2.4 million hectares required by Vale do Guaporé, almost half are distributed in contiguous PLGs, forming, in practice, 24 blocks that far surpass the thousand hectares allowed by the mining rules.

The same strategy is used by Coomipaz (Mixed Cooperative of Miners of Peixoto de Azevedo), which has 15 blocks larger than 10 thousand hectares, and by Coogam (Cooperativa dos Garimpeiros da Amazônia), with six blocks of requests above the legal limit — even so, the cooperative obtained authorization from the ANM to start exploring for gold in one of these areas.

“There is a modus operandi being carried out by these cooperatives that require several mining processes under the La Regime See Garimpeira in contiguous areas to operate large projects with much greater potential for damage than that declared in the administrative proceedings”, denounces Opan (Operation Amazônia Nativa) in a technical note filed last week with the MPF, detailing the action of cooperatives in Amazonas.

The survey cites an opinion from the MPF itself on the existence of contiguous stretches required by the ANM by cooperatives.

“These areas are part of the same enterprise project and , therefore, they should integrate a single licensing process, which would provide a more comprehensive analysis of the impacts caused by the cooperative’s activities in the region”, says the text, also signed by the CNS (National Council of Extractive Populations) and by Coiab (Coordination of Indigenous Organizations of the Brazilian Amazon).

The document also addresses the situation on the Madeira River, in Amazonas —even before the uprising of prospectors against inspection.

In addition to il exploration egal, the region is the target of interest from cooperatives seeking government approval to extract gold in the region. But even with mining authorization, there are risks.

An ANM operation, carried out in 2018, on the Madeira River , found that cooperatives are not responsible for the correct disposal of mercury, a liquid metal used in mines to separate gold from gravel. Discarded without any care into the watercourse, the substance contaminates fish and humans.

Coogam —one of the ten cooperatives that concentrate 90% of PLG requests to explore gold in the Amazon, according to Opan— had mining processes suspended in the Madeira River due to irregularities in environmental licensing.

The cooperative’s performance entailed “risk to the integrity of the Madeira River, as well as risks to human health, biodiversity and the maintenance of the Amazon ecosystem”, noted federal judge Mara Elisa Andrade in a decision handed down in 2019.

Breaks for crime

Garimpeiro cooperatives hold, in total, 295 mining processes superimposed on indigenous lands and full protection conservation units in the Legal Amazon, where this activity is prohibited.

“Since the beginning of the current administration, the federal government has made it clear that it intends to make it easy maximizing mining in the Amazon. This project includes encouraging mining on indigenous lands, an activity that is currently prohibited”, says Oliveira, from the MPF.

Although illegal, 16 of these requests were approved by the ANM, including a request in the name of Cooperativa Estanífera de Rondônia in the Uru-Eu-Wau Indigenous Land Wau, in Rondônia, and four in the Sawré Muybu (Pimental) indigenous land, in Pará, three of them registered by the Vale do Tapajós Mineral Extraction Cooperative.

The article was produced by InfoAmazonia with support from Opan (Operação Amazônia Nativa).

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