Mining companies leave Brazil's Indigenous areas, danger lingers
Some of the world's largest mining corporations have withdrawn proposals to conduct research and harvest minerals on Indigenous property in Brazil's Amazon rainforest.
Some of the world's largest mining corporations have withdrawn proposals to conduct research and harvest minerals on Indigenous property in Brazil's Amazon rainforest, rejecting Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's efforts to legalize mining in the areas.
According to Raul Jungmann, president of the Brazilian Mining Association (Ibram), an internal poll of its members was undertaken early this year. For the first time in decades, none of the firms has ongoing research or mining applications in Indigenous territories for gold, tin, nickel, iron, and other ores, he added.
Rio Tinto, Anglo American, and Vale are among the members of the group, which accounts for 85% of legally produced ore in Brazil. The Associated Press contacted all three firms. Rio Tinto has indicated that it would withdraw its bids for research concessions in 2019. In March 2021, Anglo American did the same. Over the previous year, Vale has withdrawn proposals for research and mining concessions.
Jungmann told AP by phone that “Ibram’s position is that it is not possible to request mining and research authorizations on Indigenous lands unless you have constitutional regulation."
According to research undertaken by geologist Tadeu Veiga, a consultant who also teaches at the National University of Brasilia, around two-thirds of the applications were filed with the federal mining agency before the government formally defined them as Indigenous land.
The collective retreat comes as Bolsonaro claims that Indigenous territory holds mineral riches critical to the nation's and aboriginal peoples' prosperity. According to the Brazilian Constitution, mining on the Indigenous territory is only permitted with informed permission and under the supervision of legislation that governs the operation. Such a law has yet to be passed more than three decades later.
As a fringe legislator before becoming president, Bolsonaro was working to alter that. During his presidential campaign in 2018, he stated that reserves of the metallic element niobium discovered beneath Indigenous territory might convert Brazil into a mining superpower, however, the idea was dropped once he assumed office.
According to the US Geological Survey, available niobium resources, which are utilized as an alloy in steel, are more than enough to meet the world's expected demands.
Bolsonaro visited SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk in Brazil on Friday and offered to create batteries with niobium, but Musk expressed little interest.
Not about the Indian, or the tree
Bolsonaro has consistently said that almost 14% of Brazil is within Indigenous areas and that foreign nations are advocating Indigenous rights and environmental preservation as a ploy to eventually exploit the mineral wealth themselves.
He told a crowd of prospectors in Brasilia in 2019 that interest in the Amazon "isn’t about the Indian or the damn tree. It’s the ore."
In March, he pressed Congress for an emergency vote on a law written and presented in 2020 by his mining and justice ministries to finally control Indigenous land mining, citing the vote was required due to the conflict in Ukraine, which endangered vital supplies of the fertilizer potash from Russia to Brazil's enormous farmlands.
Thousands of Indigenous people and their supporters demonstrated in front of Congress in March, headed by Brazilian musician Caetano Veloso. They quickly found an odd partner in Ibram, the mining group that had hitherto kept a low profile.
Bolsonaro’s bill “is not appropriate for its intended purpose,” Ibram said in a statement, adding that regulation of mining in Indigenous territories “needs to be widely debated by the Brazilian society, especially by the Indigenous peoples, respecting their constitutional rights, and by the Brazilian Congress."
This transition is reflected in Jungmann's selection, a high-profile politician who has served as a minister in two center-right governments.
Another cause, according to Jungmann, is increasing pressure at home and abroad to embrace more environmentally friendly socioeconomic activities.
“We are not against mining on Indigenous lands,” he said. “However, we think the bill is inadequate because it does not comply with the International Labor Organization’s Resolution 169, which demands free, prior and informed consent. Secondly, it doesn’t close the loopholes for illegal mining. Third, we want a project that preserves the environment, particularly the rainforest.”
“Prospecting, which kills and destroys communities, is a case for police, not an economic issue,” he added.
On Thursday, ecologist Philip Fearnside and five other scientists issued a letter in the journal Science saying the crisis in Ukraine was being used as an "excuse for the destruction of the Amazon."
Lawmakers have so far refused to vote on the new mining law. Jungmann stated that he had spoken with the presidents of both houses of Congress, as well as the president's Chief of Staff Ciro Nogueira, to explain industrial resistance.
Bolsonaro rebuffed criticism from Ibram and the Indigenous movement in an address to farmers on April 25, claiming that mining extraction on Indigenous territory will only take place with the agreement of the affected tribe.
The Ministry of Mining stated in an email that the mining rule for Indigenous lands was long overdue.
According to the report, a lack of control leads to instability and environmental harm.
The withdrawal of Ibram-affiliated firms from Indigenous areas does not indicate that they or others will stop mining in the Amazon or that confrontations with Indigenous people will end.
Belo Sun Mining Corp, located in Canada, is attempting to build the world's largest open-pit gold mine in Brazil's Amazon jungle. Indigenous groups in the area believe they have not been consulted. Another Canadian business, Brazil Potash Corp, is suing in court to build a $2.2 billion project near the Mura people's homeland, which they worry could impact their lands.