Some of the world’s largest mining companies have withdrawn their claims to search for and extract minerals from indigenous lands in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest and have rejected efforts by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro to legalize mining activity in those areas.
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Some of the world’s largest mining companies have withdrawn claims to search for and extract minerals on indigenous lands in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest and have rejected efforts by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro to legalize mining. mining activity in the regions.
The Brazilian Mining Association (Ibram), which represents about 130 companies, conducted an internal survey of its members earlier this year, according to Raul Jungmann, its president. For the first time in decades, none of the companies currently have research or mining applications for gold, tin, nickel, iron and other minerals in indigenous regions, a he declared. Neither the survey nor its results have been previously published.
Among the members of the association, which represents 85% of the ore produced legally in Brazil, are the mining giants Rio Tinto, Anglo American and Vale. The AP contacted all three companies. Rio Tinto confirmed that it withdrew its research concession applications in 2019. Anglo American did the same in March 2021. Vale withdrew its research and mining concession applications over the past year.
“Ibram’s position is that it is not possible to apply for mining and research permits on indigenous lands unless you have constitutional regulation,” Jungmann said by phone.
About two-thirds of applications were filed with the federal mining agency before the government officially demarcated them as indigenous territory, according to a study by geologist Tadeu Veiga, a consultant who also teaches at the National University. from Brasília.
The collective retreat comes as Bolsonaro insists that indigenous territories contain essential mineral resources to bring prosperity to both the nation and indigenous peoples. The Brazilian Constitution stipulates that mining can only take place on indigenous lands after obtaining informed consent and under the laws that regulate the activity. More than three decades later, such legislation has still not been approved.
Bolsonaro was pushing to change that even before he became president, as a fringe lawmaker. During his 2018 presidential campaign, he said deposits of the metallic element niobium, found under indigenous lands, could turn Brazil into a mining powerhouse, but the proposal was dropped after he took office. Available resources of niobium, used as an alloy for steel, are more than sufficient to meet projected global needs, according to the US Geological Survey.
Bolsonaro has repeatedly said that the nearly 14% of Brazil that is on indigenous territories is excessive and that foreign governments are defending indigenous rights and environmental preservation as a bet to eventually exploit the wealth themselves. mineral.
“The interest in the Amazon is not about the Indian or the damn tree. It’s the ore,” he told a crowd of prospectors in the capital Brasilia in 2019.
Most recently, in March, he lobbied Congress for an emergency vote on the bill drafted and introduced in 2020 by his Departments of Mines and Justice to finally regulate mining on Indigenous lands. He said the emergency vote was needed because of the war in Ukraine, which threatened Russia’s crucial potash fertilizer supplies to Brazil’s vast farmlands.
With the law in place, “in two or three years we will no longer be dependent on potash imports for our agribusiness,” Bolsonaro said. “Agro-industry is the engine of our economy”.
However, experts were quick to note that most potash deposits in the Brazilian Amazon are not located in indigenous territory, according to a study by the Federal University of Minas Gerais based on official data.
Critics have argued that the main purpose of the bill is to provide legal cover for thousands of prospectors. The activity has increased in recent years amid repeated promises of regulation by the Bolsonaro government, whose members have held several meetings with representatives of the prospectors.
Prospector sites often expand over time, creating enormous damage, destroying shorelines, contaminating waterways with mercury and disrupting the traditional ways of life of indigenous peoples. In contrast, industrial-scale mining in the Amazon produces deep scars in the forest, but mostly limited to the area of the deposit, as is the case of Carajas, the largest open pit iron ore mine in the world. world, operated by Vale.
In March, as Bolsonaro’s parliamentary base attempted to fast-track the bill, thousands of indigenous people and their allies demonstrated outside Congress, led by Brazilian singer Caetano Veloso. They quickly found an unlikely ally: Ibram, the mining association, which in the past had kept a low profile.
Bolsonaro’s bill “is not fit for purpose,” Ibram said in a statement released days later, adding that the regulation of mining in indigenous territories “must be widely discussed by society. Brazil, especially by indigenous peoples, respecting their constitutional rights. , and by the Brazilian Congress.
Jungmann said his association released the unusual statement, first because it decided to become more open and transparent following two mining accidents in the state of Minas Gerais in 2015 and 2019 that killed hundreds. of people and contaminated waterways.
The appointment of Jungmann, a top politician who has served as a minister in two centre-right governments, also reflects this change.
Another reason, Jungmann said, is growing pressure at home and abroad to adopt more environmentally friendly socio-environmental practices.
“We are not against mining on indigenous lands,” he said. “However, we believe the bill is inadequate as it does not comply with International Labor Organization Resolution 169, which requires free, prior and informed consent. Second, it does not close loopholes for illegal mining. Third, we want a project that preserves the environment, especially the rainforest.
“Prospecting, which kills and destroys communities, is a police matter, not an economic matter,” he added.
Bolsonaro’s proposal faced another international backlash on Thursday when environmentalist Philip Fearnside and five other scientists published a letter in the journal Nature warning that the war in Ukraine was being used “as an excuse for the destruction of the Amazon.”
Indigenous lands are key to maintaining the ecological benefits provided by Brazil’s Amazon rainforest, they wrote. “These lands protect the forest more than federal protected areas. The letter calls on mineral importers to “follow up on possible boycotts to make it clear that Brazil’s irresponsible actions have consequences,” if the law is passed.
Much to Bolsonaro’s chagrin, lawmakers have so far refused to put the mining bill to a vote. Jungmann said he met with the presidents of both houses of Congress to explain industry opposition, as well as the president’s chief of staff, Ciro Nogueira.
In an address to farmers on April 25, Bolsonaro dismissed criticism from Ibram and the indigenous movement, alleging that mineral exploration on indigenous lands would only take place with the approval of the tribe concerned.
In an email, the Ministry of Mines called the mining regulations for indigenous areas long-standing. Lack of regulation leads to environmental disorder and damage, he said.
Companies affiliated with Ibram withdrawing from indigenous territories does not mean that they or others will stop exploiting the Amazon, or that conflicts with indigenous peoples are a thing of the past.
Canadian company Belo Sun Mining Corp is trying to develop what would be the largest open-pit gold mine in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest. Neighboring indigenous communities say they were not consulted. Another Canadian company, Brazil Potash Corp, is battling in court to implement a $2.2 billion project near the territory of the Mura, who fear the operation will affect their land.
Neither company is affiliated with Ibram, which declined to comment on the cases.
The database of the federal mining regulator, known as the ANM, still reflects the active applications of many large mining companies in indigenous territories. Indigenous groups say this means big mining companies are still interested in their land.
In an email response, the regulator said a withdrawal request goes through a clearing process before an app is officially inactive. Sometimes it can take years. ANM declined to provide specific application details. Ibrahim’s Jungmann says the agency needs to overcome its technical issues.
“Mining companies are paying increasing attention to the principles of social and environmental governance. Shareholders and society demand it,” said Veiga, who has extensive experience advising such businesses in the Amazon, as well as nonprofits. “And they (the mining companies) never felt taken into consideration with Bolsonaro’s bill, which was interpreted as an attempt to legalize illegal mining.”
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