Brazil’s illegal gold rush is fueling corruption, violent crime and deforestation

Published in Mongabay

By Robert Muggah

Once the epicenter of the global trade in gold, illegal mining is once again surging across the Amazon. Its extraction and trade is not only fueling corruption, money laundering and criminal violence – it is accelerating deforestation in the world’s largest tropical forest.

The latest spike in wildcat mining is driven by international demand. The price of gold is up from $400 in 2000 to over $1,800 an ounce in 2022. And ground zero for the clandestine gold rush is Brazil where researchers have documented tens of thousands of small-scale miners and more than 320 illegal mines, though the real number is likely higher. Legally and illegally mined areas have expanded sixfold across Brazil between 1985 and 2020 – from 31,000 to 206,000 hectares. Today, Brazil is among the world’s top ten exporters of gold. One of the problems, however, is that a significant proportion of it is illegal.

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