Thursday, March 18, 2010

An Article About the Darker Side of the Diamond Mining Trade in Cinta Larga, Brazil

I stumbled across this article in the Village Voice. It is the rather complex story about the darker side of the diamond mining trade in the Cinta Larga Indian Reserve of Brazil and one New Yorker's attempt an utter failure to make a fortune from it.

A thoroughly interesting read and a reminder of why we like to stay on the right side of the law.

(First page copied from the Village Voice online. Read the rest HERE)

A New York Operator's Trail of Blood, Bankruptcy, and Brazilian Diamonds

        The entrance to the 110-year-old brownstone at 2 East 12th Street, two blocks south of Union Square, isn't particularly dramatic or imposing. You have to step down to reach the front door. There's no doorman to wait on you.

Garimpeiros at work, photographed from a federal 
police helicopter in 2004.
                                                                                                      photos crdt: Newscom
Garimpeiros at work, photographed from a federal police helicopter in 2004.

        Looking at it, you wouldn't imagine that the basement apartment there was at the center of a bitter court fight that ranged from the West 47th Street Diamond District deep into the Amazon jungle, and involved smuggling, bribery, corruption, a $20 billion corporation, Stone Age Indians, and a massacre.
        Longtime New York diamond merchant Marco Kalisch and his wife, Mayra, owned the apartment, having lovingly restored it after combining it with the two adjacent units. They had a nice life—at least until Kalisch and his Brazilian partners tried to corner the market on rough diamonds being illegally mined on an Indian reservation in the Amazon.
        "The story told by Marco [Kalisch] could be the basis of a screenplay," a U.S. bankruptcy judge noted in his surprisingly novelistic description of the case that was almost completely ignored by the media. "The background [swirls] with references to shady dealings and long journeys into remote areas of the Amazon jungle, describes an apparently illegal conspiracy to obtain rough diamonds from . . . Indians in Brazil and import those diamonds into the United States for ultimate sale in the diamond market of Antwerp."
        That wild scheme, actually successful for a short time, ultimately blew up. And in the end, what the Americans involved in it were left to fight over was the basement apartment on East 12th Street—so far away from where the story starts, thousands of miles south, deep in inaccessible jungle.
        The 1,300-member Cinta Larga tribe, whose name means "Wide Belt," lives on a 6.7-million-acre Brazilian reservation of dense jungle, limited roads, and almost impassable rivers. The land, about 2,100 miles northwest of Rio de Janeiro, is reachable only via 100 miles of poorly maintained dirt roads. Inside the reserve, travel is limited largely to narrow foot trails and the river.
        The first extensively recorded encounter with white Westerners came during Theodore Roosevelt's historic expedition down the so-called River of Doubt, named for its extreme and dangerous conditions.
        When Roosevelt and the Brazilian explorer C├óndido Rondon, for whom the state is named, encountered them in 1914, the Cinta Larga had never seen a white man before. They were still living in the Stone Age, isolated by the river, and hadn't even thought to build boats.
        War for the Cinta Larga was a cultural obsession. The tribe decapitated and eviscerated their enemy's dead and grilled the meat over an open fire before bringing it home for their wives to slice, cook with water, and consume.....

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