HomeNewsSmall Aircraft Feed Illegal Mining Operations in Brazil's Amazon
NEWS

Small Aircraft Feed Illegal Mining Operations in Brazil's Amazon

BRAZIL / 6 OCT 2021 BY SCOTT MISTLER-FERGUSON EN

The scale of illegal mining on an Indigenous reserve deep in Brazil’s Amazon has grown so large that fleets of small aircraft are landing on remote airstrips to truck in equipment and haul out illicit gold.

A recent joint campaign by Brazil’s aviation authority (Agencia Nacional de Aviacao Civil - ANAC) and its environmental protection agency (Instituto Brasileiro do Meio Ambiente e dos Recursos Naturais Renováveis - Ibama) led to the seizure of 66 aircraft suspected of being used in illegal mining operations. Authorities also destroyed nearly 60 clandestine landing strips and five helipads in the Uraricoera River region of the Yanomami reservation in northern Brazil, Ibama officials said in September.

SEE ALSO: Brazil News and Profile

The aircraft provided logistical support to the miners, flying in equipment, fuel and other supplies. Nine aircraft were stripped of seats and retrofitted with metal and plywood structures to facilitate such transport.

“All the aircraft were out of character, with the rear seats removed. Containers of 50 liters would be taken to garimpeiros (illegal miners) in Yanomami territory,” Celso Paiva, of the Federal Police in Roraima, told the Folha de São Paulo newspaper.

Nine of the seized helicopters suspected of being used in illegal mining were linked to air transport companies that had received government money for services that included transporting medical teams to the Yanomami, according to documents obtained by Folha de São Paulo.

InSight Crime Analysis

Small aircraft have become the favored method for moving supplies into the dense jungle of Brazil’s Yanomami reserve. For aircraft owners willing to take the risk, the profits are substantial.

An investigation by Repórter Brasil cited Federal Police estimates that individual pilots who transport cargo and return with illegally sourced gold can earn as much as $37,000 in a single week.

The investigation named the Barra dos Ventos aerodrome, a small airport outside the state capital Boa Vista, as the primary destination for flights entering and exiting the Yanomami reserve. Meanwhile, clandestine airstrips in the Indigenous reserve are common and easily replaced when destroyed. The Association of Yek'uana people told the news outlet that decommissioned airstrips are replaced within two weeks.

SEE ALSO: Brazil's Mining Regulator No Match For Illegal Gold Rush

Given the lack of oversight from Brazil’s aviation authorities, aircraft firms involved in supplying illegal mines often operate with impunity and lack of oversight, according to Repórter Brasil. While these practices predate the current government, they have increased significantly during the administration of Jair Bolsonaro.

Moreover, in January 2021, aviation authorities opened the floodgates even wider for these companies by allowing for “aircraft landing and takeoff operations in unregistered locations located in the Legal Amazon.” The area encompasses nine states, and a portion of Maranhão State, in the country’s northwest. This seemingly blank check to operate has further stoked the gold rush in the Amazon, with as many as 20 flights taking place in a week at one mining site.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

ILLEGAL MINING / 24 MAY 2017

Peru has lost hundreds of hectares of rainforests to illegal mining in recent months, a reminder of the environmental damage…

ARGENTINA / 20 FEB 2019

Since beginning in Brazil with the “Operation Car Wash” (“Operação Lava Jato”) investigation in 2014, the Odebrecht corruption scandal has…

BRAZIL / 25 NOV 2015

Brazil has initiated a large-scale offensive against a drug trafficking organization that was reportedly establishing a "parallel state" in the…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Tackles Illegal Fishing

15 OCT 2021

In October, InSight Crime and American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies (CLALS) began a year-long project on illegal, unreported, unregulated (IUU) fishing in…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Featured in Handbook for Reporting on Organized Crime

8 OCT 2021

In late September, the Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN) published an excerpt of its forthcoming guide on reporting organized crime in Indonesia.

THE ORGANIZATION

Probing Organized Crime in Haiti

1 OCT 2021

InSight Crime has made it a priority to investigate organized crime in Haiti, where an impotent state is reeling after the July assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, coupled with an…

THE ORGANIZATION

Emergency First Aid in Hostile Environments

24 SEP 2021

At InSight Crime's annual treat, we ramped up hostile environment and emergency first aid training for our 40-member staff, many of whom conduct on-the-ground investigations in dangerous corners of the region.

THE ORGANIZATION

Series on Environmental Crime in the Amazon Generates Headlines

17 SEP 2021

InSight Crime and the Igarapé Institute have been delighted at the response to our joint investigation into environmental crimes in the Colombian Amazon. Coverage of our chapters dedicated to illegal mining…