Brazil’s Amazon jungle is home to some of the world’s richest diamonds deposits. But for the Cinta-Larga indigenous group who live on the remote area, that discovery has brought more misfortune than wealth.
According to an article published by local newspaper Folha (in Portuguese), the tribe is struggling to confront illegal mining in the area comprised of the Roosevelt, Serra Morena, Aripuanã and Aripuanã Park indigenous reserves.
Miners began prospecting in 1999 and soon overran the tribe’s lands, bringing with them drinking, drugs, illnesses and prostitution. Dazzled by the promise of quick wealth from their dealings with the outsiders, tribal leaders have accumulated debts they cannot pay — especially since police set up roadblocks on the reservation’s borders to prevent illegal diamond trafficking.
The piece, translated and reprinted by InSight Crime, a foundation dedicated to the studying and reporting of organized crime in Latin America and the Caribbean, claims the current situation is worse than in 2004, when the Roosevelt reserve was experiencing the peak of a diamond rush:
“The current situation is more serious than it was in April 2004,” says Reginaldo Trindade, the state prosecutor in charge of defending the Cinta-Larga. “In March of this year, there were no less than 500 armed miners who told the Cinta-Larga that they would not leave the indigenous land.”
This was no isolated incident. Mining activities were completely suspended in May on orders from the indigenous community. In July, the area was retaken by armed miners, who returned to extracting diamonds.
While Brazil is not a powerhouse in terms of diamonds, producing barely 0.04% of the 130.5 million karats mined globally in 2013, is not a coincidence that the states with the largest production are also the main areas where illegal diamonds are traded: Mato Grosso (88% of the country’s total) and Minas Gerais (11%).
The country is not the only one in the region affected by illegal diamond trafficking. In 2012, Venezuela-based British journalist, Girish Gupta, traced the illicit network of diamond smuggling that originates in, and zigzags through, the jungles of that country, Guyana and Brazil before leapfrogging to markets in New York, Tel Aviv and London.
Many are of the opinion that formalizing mining in indigenous reserves is the solution. In fact, nine out of ten sources interviewed by Folha, said regulation is the answer, including officials from the Public Ministry, Federal Police, indigenous, indigenous activists and even miners, who claim the prefer to work legally.