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Brazil’s Bolsonaro says bill to open indigenous reserves to mining, agriculture ready

Nearly 60% of tested people in Munduruku villages had mercury levels above what global health organizations consider safe. (Image: Katiabraga | Pixabay.)

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said on Thursday that a controversial bill allowing mining, agriculture and cattle farms on protected indigenous reserves was ready to be sent to Congress for consideration.

The former Army captain, who took office in January, said the proposed rule is nothing but “good news” for the country’s original population.  “They will be able to do on their lands everything that farmers do,” the right-wind leader said, according to Brazil. “It’s the Indian’s Golden Law.”

Bolsonaro did not mention when he would send the bill to Congress, which goes on recess on Friday and doesn’t resume functions until February.

The proposed rule would have to be approved by Congress, which goes on recess on Friday and resumes functions in February

The President is known for his lack of sympathy towards indigenous people, who make up less than 1% of Brazil’s population and live on reservation lands. Those cover 12% of the country’s territory, mostly in and around the Amazon rainforest.

Bolsonaro’s approach towards them and the environment in general has isolated him internationally. Germany and Norway froze millions of dollars in aid to the Amazon over his policies in August, and French President Emmanuel Macron threatened to pull out of a long-sought trade deal between Europe and South America.

In September, a group of 200 investment funds called on companies to reduce their reliance on deforestation, saying Brazil’s policies were exposing businesses to compliance risk. Several companies have called for boycotts of Brazilian beef and leather.

Despite the pressure, Bolsonaro —  who recently shrugged off a government report that deforestation in the Amazon reached an 11-year high on his watch — continues to make controversial statements.

Climate scientists say opening up the Amazon for greater development could make it impossible for Latin America’s largest nation to meet its reduced emissions targets in the coming years.

Brewing conflicts

Other issues conservationists are worried about include Bolsonaro’s criticism of the country’s environmental agencies for blocking or taking too long to approve mining and energy projects. He has promised to reduce the wait time to license small hydroelectric plants to a maximum of three months, rather than the decade it can sometimes take.

Then there are the over 400 brewing disputes involving mining companies, quilombos (communities made up of the ancestors of runaway slaves) and other indigenous peoples.

Brewing disputes between miners and Brazil's indigenous people.
Source: Latentes.

Latentes, a journalistic project to map conflict areas in Brazil, has found that from the 428 potential conflicts detected in the country, 245 are located on reserves. The rest involve traditional bondservant communities, as Brazil was the West’s last nation to abolish slavery.

Companies operating and exploring in Brazil are mainly after iron ore (the country is the world’s top producer of the steel-making ingredient) and gold, though the nation also holds large reserves of bauxite, manganese, potash and zinc. It’s also Latin America’s No. 1 oil producer.