MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Brazil may give land to "wildcat" diamond miners

Published by MAC on 2006-01-25

Brazil may give land to "wildcat" diamond miners

by PlanetArk BRAZIL

25th January 2006

RIO DE JANEIRO - The Brazilian government may concede a diamond-rich area in Minas Gerais state to an organized group of wildcat miners, known as garimpeiros, a Mining and Energy Ministry official said.

Brazil has diamonds in 12 of its 26 states and was the world's largest producer of the gem between 1730 and 1860. "(President) Lula's government is again planning to grant space and rights to wildcat miners organized into cooperatives," Elder Pacheco, of the mining, geology and mineral processing secretariat, told Reuters late on Monday.

The aim was to prevent fighting over land, he said. "It's part of a government program launched in 2003 to regularize small companies and independent miners which do not cause social problems, smuggle or damage the environment."

The main example of the success of this program is the planned reopening of Para state's Serra Pelada gold mine to independent miners belonging to the local Coomigasp cooperative, Pacheco said.

An estimated 100,000 independent miners formerly worked at Serra Pelada in the south of Para state where there were fierce territorial conflicts.

The government now plans to give the wildcat miners the diamond-rich Coromandel area of Minas Gerais, recently revealed as one of Brazil's richest and economically viable diamond deposits. There are some 2,000 wildcat miners present in and around an area on which various established companies have already gained mining concessions, the mining official said.

Brazil's public ministry has now sealed off the area for environmental reasons, while a possible concession to the independent miners of part of the area is negotiated with the companies which were originally granted mining rights there.

The names of the companies were not revealed.

"The big companies agree to giving up part of their land in these cases because the regularization of the wildcat miners improves Brazil's image as a mineral exporter," Pacheco said, referring to concern about pollution and use of slave labor. Before the program to legalize wildcat miners, there were an estimated 1.5 million unofficial miners in Brazil.

Wildcat mining has been reduced, especially for construction materials such as sands, clay, grinding pebbles, marble and granite, Pacheco said.


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