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Náferson Cruz – for Cenarium Magazine

AUTAZES (AM) – “Here on the Madeira riverbed there is gold and it is the guarantee of our survival in a country without opportunities”, says the former farmer Gideão Bentes Sales, 36 years old, one of the miners who illegally extract metals from one of the largest rivers in the Amazon.

Gideão is in one of the more than 600 “raft-dredges” installed four weeks ago on the Madeira, in the Rosarinho Community, in the Autazes municipality (120 kilometers from Manaus), whose financing is unknown and that are the target of environmental inspection agencies.

Former farmer and now miner, Gideão Bentes Sales, 36, holds gold found deep in the Rio Madeira. (Photo: Ricardo Oliveira/CENARIUM)

The miner’s phrase summarizes a common feeling among hundreds of miners who are in the area. On Thursday the 25th, CENARIUM MAGAZINE was in the region, also known as ‘Vale do Madeira’, where we followed up close the intense movement of the most coveted miners in the country.

During the four-hour trip in six “floating villages” or “raft belts”, as the miners called them, the precarious wooden structures and heavy machinery working with deafening noise, as well as the constant black smoke coming out of a kind of furnace, drew a lot of attention. The presence of children, pregnant women, and elderly people lying in hammocks was also noticed.

Floating rafts in the middle of the river serve as housing. (Photo: Ricardo Oliveira/CENARIUM)

“We have nowhere to go. If the police come here and remove us, where will we go with our families? Most of these people worked in the fields or in factories in Manaus, and now they are trying to support their families”, said Adriano França, 31 years old, a former baker’s assistant, who has been away from home for two months, in the city of Manicoré (AM). He claims to own the raft, which has four machine operators. The miner revealed that in the first twenty hours on site he had extracted 13 grams of gold.

On the raft next to him was Maciel Bentes Brasil, 25 years old. He says that he has been in the mining business since he was 15 years old. The young man gets emotional when talking about the past and his dream of also ‘bamburrar’ (getting rich). “When we heard the news that gold was coming out of here, I had no doubt. It was my chance to have something and to succeed in life”, declared Maciel, while showing the reporter that he had managed to collect, so far, 15 grams of gold.

Gold miner shows the gold in the iron bowl on the conveyor belt. (Photo: Ricardo Oliveira/ CENARIUM)

Some of the miners invested everything they had in the hope of a financial return. One of them is Edilon Ferreira Silva, 38 years old. Unlike the others, he did not take his wife and two children with him and has been away from home for two months. Born in the Uruapinha community, in Humaitá (AM), Edilon takes turns with his brother-in-law in the ferry operation. “So far we have already obtained 25 grams of gold”, says the miner.

Gold miner checks steel cable in dredge in Madeira. (Photo: Ricardo Oliveira/ CENARIUM)

Around this mining “invasion” of the Rio Madeira, a complex chain of suppliers of inputs, equipment, and labor is organized. At every moment, countless boats with supplies anchor at the rafts for the commercialization of products. Jucival Souza, known as “Ceará”, doesn’t miss an opportunity to make a profit. He peregrinates on the rafts carrying a bag full of perfumes. “I sell everything, there is nothing left, after all, there are 600 houses to offer my products”, he comments.

Check out more photos

Gold miner rests sitting on a dredge in the middle of the Madeira. (Photo: Ricardo Oliveira/CENARIUM)
Gold is melted in a mining site on the Rio Madeira. (Photo: Ricardo Oliveira/ CENARIUM)
Garimpeiro shows a piece of gold found in Amazonas. (Photo: Ricardo Oliveira/ CENARIUM)
Child plays passing from one dredge to another. (Photo: Ricardo Oliveira/ CENARIUM)
Man rests, before returning to work. (Photo: Ricardo Oliveira/ CENARIUM)
Woman watches husband working on dredge. (Photo: Ricardo Oliveira/ CENARIUM)
Man sleeps in a hammock installed on a dredge that works as a floating house. (Photo: Ricardo Oliveira/ CENARIUM)
Gold miner improvises a shower to bathe after a day of work. (Photo: Ricardo Oliveira/ CENARIUM)