- In a victory for Canadian and Brazilian mining companies, President Michel Temer last week decreed the opening of a vast national reserve covering 4.6 million hectares in the Amazon to mining. The region contains large conserved areas as well as indigenous communities.
- Temer’s original August 23rd Amazon mining decree was met with worldwide condemnation, which resulted this week in the president announcing a second decree on August 28th which sets up a committee that will review mining permits in the region.
- It has also been reported that Canadian mining companies, who would likely profit from the preserve´s elimination, were quietly notified that the region was going to be opened up for prospecting last March, five months before the original decree was issued.
- Environmentalists and other protesters say that Temer’s revised decree does little to change the potential harm posed to the Amazon by the first decree; most critics see the embattled president’s response as a clumsy attempt at public relations damage control.
Last week when Michel Temer issued a new presidential decree abolishing a gigantic national reserve In the Amazon, opening up 4.6 million hectares (17,800 square miles) to mining, he was met by a firestorm of criticism, which has now resulted in a second decree, clarifying the first.
The original August 23rd decree was received by a wall of protest from lawmakers, scientists, environmentalists, artists, singers, and even Brazilian super model Gisele Bundchen. “Shame! They are auctioning our Amazon! We cannot destroy protected areas for private interests,” Bundchen tweeted.
Cleber Buzatto, Executive Secretary of the Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI), told Mongabay that “the government has made a marketing play.” He said that CIMI will continue to push for the first decree’s full revocation. “The new decree has basically no changes and continues to allow mining in this vast area with extremely serious consequences for the ecological preserves and indigenous communities in that region.”
Prof. Mario de Lima Filho, a geologist at the University of Pernambuco, told Mongabay: “This new decree is as senseless as the first one; It gives you the feeling the government is trying to justify the unjustifiable.”
The preserve to be abolished, known as the National Copper and Associated Reserve (Renca) was established in 1984 during the Brazilian military dictatorship to provide mineral wealth for the nation, plans never carried out. The region lies between the Amazonian states of Pará and Amapá, and covers an area the size of Denmark. It is reportedly rich in gold, iron, nickel, manganese and other minerals, but also includes nine conservation and indigenous areas.
Map the Environment tweeted a map with the mining permits attached to the area to show the extent of the potential impact.
Still, unauthorized mining is already taking place in the area, according to de Lima Filho. “The government recognizes that there is clandestine prospecting in the Renca area, and this decree is supposed to forgive that exploitation,” he said.
Temer’s most recent decree, made on August 28th in response to worldwide protests, upholds the abolition of Renca´s special protected status, but it specifically prohibits prospecting in indigenous areas, nature preserves or in border regions, and creates a review committee to help ensure those protections.
Fernando Coelho Filho, Minister of Mines and Energy, said that the August 28thdecree aimed to clarify points that had generated outcry against the initial Renca decree abolishing the protected area. The Temer government said originally that Renca is being abolished in order to attract foreign investment, improve exports and boost Brazil’s struggling economy.
The Minister of the Environment, Sarney Filho, when asked the reasons for the second decree said that “there was a lot of confusion in the way society as a whole perceived this decree.”
The BBC Brasil reported over the weekend that Canadian mining companies, who would likely profit from the preserve´s elimination, were quietly notified that the area was going to be opened up for prospecting five months before the original decree was issued.
Furing a March gathering, Coelho Filho told the Prospecters and Developers Association of Canada that the area would be opened up for bidding. The BBC also reported that shortly thereafter, Brazil´s Official Diary, where all laws and decrees are published, printed a notice that paved the way for last week´s announcement.
In June, the Brazilian-Canadian Chamber of Commerce announced a new mining commission focused on mining in Brazil. There are currently approximately 30 Canadian mining firms operating in Brazil.
The coordinator of this commission told BBC Brazil that “mining protects the environment” and that he believes it is “very healthy” to open the Renca area up to prospecting.
Environmentalists disagree. Last week, Senator Randolfe Rodrigues denounced Temer’s original move to abolish Renca as “the biggest attack on the Amazon of the last 50 years,” reported the O Globo newspaper. This week, Globo´s G1 news site quoted Rodrigues saying that the new decree is an attempt to “trick Brazilian society and the international community.”
While both of Temer’s decrees assert that indigenous and environmental preserves will be protected, critics worry that adjacent mines, roads, transmission lines and other infrastructure will greatly compromise the region’s forests and impact its indigenous people.
World Wildlife Fund Brazil Executive Director Maurício Voivodic said that opening the region to mining would result in a “demographic explosion, deforestation, the destruction of water resources, the loss of biodiversity and the creation of land conflict,” repercussions seen in other parts of Brazil opened to rapid mining and infrastructure expansion.
The new, August 28th decree, creates a regulating body, the Committee to Accompany the Environmental Areas of the Former Renca. That committee will have to be consulted prior to mining permits being issued. Mining companies will also have to submit plans demonstrating that their projects are financially sustainable and include environmental recovery measures for impacted areas, as well as plans to prevent environmental damage.
Christian Poirier of Amazon Watch told The Guardian that “The abolition of Renca will wreak havoc on the forest and indigenous communities in the interests of the small group of economically powerful groups who are keeping Temer in power. This is the largest assault so far in a package of threats.” The threats Poirier refers to are a raft of Temer administration and legislative initiatives in recent weeks to undercut many of Brazil’s laws protecting the environment, indigenous lands and traditional communities.
It is unclear at present if Temer’s August 28th decree will do much to soften the protest inspired by the August 23rd decree abolishing the preserve. Decrees become effective immediately, but must ultimately be approved by Congress.