Brazil plans to allow mining in Amazonian indigenous reserves

Aerial view of the Amazon Rainforest, near Manaus, the capital of the Brazilian state of Amazonas. (Image by Neil Palmer, CIAT)

Brazil is pushing ahead with plans to allow mining in the indigenous reserves of the Amazon rain forest and will send a bill to Congress later this month to regulate the activity, according to the country’s minister for mines and energy.

The Brazilian constitution permits the extraction of raw materials from the reserves but a lack of regulation has resulted in widespread wildcat mining across the region, Bento Albuquerque, a Navy admiral, told Bloomberg News in an interview in Brasilia.

The minister met 12 European ambassadors on Thursday to discuss the proposal, which is likely to meet strong resistance from environmental groups

“A majority of the 600 indigenous communities want this,” he said, adding that they would be compensated for the economic exploitation of their lands. “Nothing is more damaging to the environment than illegal activity.”

The minister met 12 European ambassadors on Thursday to discuss the proposal, which is likely to meet strong resistance from environmental groups. The Brazilian government has clashed repeatedly with European leaders concerned about President Jair Bolsonaro‘s policies toward the Amazon, with some European Union lawmakers threatening to block a trade deal with Mercosur, the South American customs union, over the issue.

Brazil has over 800 wildcat mines in the Amazon, Environment Minister Ricardo Salles said in interviews last year. The Amazon Geo-Referenced Socio-Environmental Information Network, an NGO, puts the number at 453, with over 2,500 such mines spread across the nine countries that make up the Amazon region.

Mining code

Albuquerque also said that there was no need to alter Brazil’s mining code, despite the disastrous collapse of two tailings dams owned or partly owned by Vale over the past five years.

“What happened at Brumadinho and Mariana can’t been generalized for all the mining activity in the country,” he said. “Brazil has the most current legal code in the world and changing it won’t change the past.”

The minister also said that the government wants Congress to approve the privatization of Eletrobras, the state electricity company, in the first half of this year in order to sell it in the second half. The government is willing to consider some concessions to facilitate the company’s sale, as there is some resistance among lawmakers.

“Electrobras is in decline; it hasn’t taken part in any auctions for almost a decade,” he said. “The most important thing is that it should be privatized and that they company should be on the market because then the cost of energy will fall.”

(By Simone Iglesias and Martha Beck)

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