OIAPOQUE, Brazil (Reuters) – Brazil has mobilized more than 4,000 soldiers to patrol its northern coast near the jungle border with French Guiana for the trafficking of drugs, weapons and gold and for other crimes, which are rampant in the remote Amazon rainforest region.
Reuters accompanied soldiers armed with rifles as they navigated Amazon rivers and coastlines in boats and amphibious tanks over two days of patrols in the northern Amazon rainforest states of Pará and Amapá.
Police, environmental authorities and other government agencies are also involved in the mission, called Operation Ágata Norte.
The mission, which began on Oct. 22 and is set to continue into November, has seized 146,000 tonnes of manganese, 86 grams of gold and several shipments of undocumented lumber, and destroyed 3,000 marijuana plants, according to a Defense Ministry statement.
“The biggest problem that we’ve seen, which could become an even bigger problem in the future, is the issue of illegal wildcat mines, mainly the deforestation and environmental damage that they bring,” said General Adilson Giovani Quint, commander of one of the jungle infantry brigades on the mission.
Destruction of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest at the hands of illegal miners, loggers and other criminals has surged since President Jair Bolsonaro took office in Jan. 2019.
Bolsonaro has called for commercial farming and mining in the Amazon, saying it will help lift the region out of poverty. He has also weakened environmental enforcement agencies that he sees as too zealous in issuing fines and destroying illegal mining and logging equipment.
(Writing by Jake Spring; Editing by Mike Collett-White)