MAC: Mines and Communities

Gold rush in Pará postponed by the government

Published by MAC on 2006-04-20

Gold rush in Pará postponed by the government

Source: Correio Braziliense


20th April 2006

Charges of irregularities in the mining cooperative and death threats have led President Lula to indefinitely suspend the reopening of Serra Pelada

The federal government is indefinitely postponing the permit to allow smallscale miners from Serra Pelada to return to gold prospecting in the underground mine located in southeastern Pará. Reason: a meeting held last Sunday with 10,000 miners decided to remove Sebastião Curió and his political allies from the executive board of the Claim Mining Cooperative of Serra Pelada (Coomigasp). There are charges of irregularities within the cooperative. Mayor of the municipality of Curionopolis, Curió has refused to accept the decision and has threatened to murder the incoming board of the cooperative.

Yesterday, the president of the Claim Miners Union of Serra Pelada, Raimundo Benigno Pereira, sent correspondence to the Minister of Justice, Márcio Thomaz Bastos, alerting him to the rising tension in the claim mining area. Benigno says he is receiving death threats and filed charges with the police and at the Human Rights Commission of the Chamber of Deputies. "I received a phone call saying that there were three gunmen looking for me here in Brasilia", he said. According to Benigno, Curió himself made the threats personally. Correio Braziliense was unable to reach the mayor for him to defend himself of the accusations, despite having left messages on his mobile phone.

With this tense climate, the operating permit that President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was to personally deliver to the claim miners 30 days from now has been postponed. The government believes that the permit will only be granted after the tense climate in the area improves. Forecasts are that things will improve after the 42,000 claim miners in the union participate in an election to appoint new directors. "Lula is personally interested in this election because he wants to make the return to the gold rush in Serra Pelada into an election event", analyzes claim miner Edmar Ventura.

The document left by the miners with the Ministry of Justice highlights that Sebastião Curió would never accept defeat peacefully. "This time it was no different, his group closed down the cooperative building, took the vehicles and all funds raised the last few months", accuses Benigno. In the correspondence, the union leader states that miners are being persecuted and are having their lives threatened by gunmen hired by Sebastião Curió. Claim miners request a task force in Serra Pelada to avoid killings in the mining area.

The government has plenty of reason to worry about the situation in Serra Pelada. In the 1990s, soon after the mine was closed down, the mining area literally became a mine field. When large nuggets were discovered at the bottom of a lake, miners divided into two groups and disputed power within the union. The struggle resulted in three killings, including that of the union president, Antônio Clênio Cunha Lemos, executed in 1998. The gunman who shot him said in a statement that he had been hired by Curió, who denied any involvement.

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