Jorge Calvimontes, Raissa Resende de Moraes and Carlos Henrique Xavier Araujo, researchers with the Gold Matters project, report on their recent fieldwork in in Brazil.
In July we travelled along highway BR163 searching for garimpeiros (miners) and gold. Recognizing miner mobilities, and how important the highway has been for access to some of the most important gold deposits in the world, we travelled from the north of the state of Mato Grosso to the southwest of the state of Pará, covering 1200km in total, mainly in the Tapajós region.
Travelling along the highway we visited open pit and underground garimpos (mining sites) and interviewed people associated with the activity – the miners themselves, representatives of their associations, indigenous people, traders and government officials. Gold mining has been one of the most important economic activities in the region for several decades and as we moved we saw how vital garimperiros’ activity has been for the growth of towns and lives of their residents. Even so, the mining is usually informal or illegal and provokes many law enforcement conflicts. Over time, mining associations and cooperatives have developed to reduce this conflict by supporting and regularizing gold mining, each with different characteristics and levels of organization, depending on its local context.
As we travelled, the current political situation in Brazil was palpable, aggrevating on-the-ground conflict. In the past gold miners were vilified, but today President Bolsonaro describes himself as the son of a miner, welcoming their role in developing the Amazonian region. The discourse and actions of the state permeate gold mining relationships, creating complex dynamics at local, regional and federal levels, all of which we will investigate further as our research develops.
All photos courtesy of the authors.