Monday, May 29, 2023

Mining companies withdraw from indigenous regions of Brazil

RIO DE JANEIRO ( Associated Press) — Some of the world’s biggest mining companies have withdrawn requests to research and extract minerals on indigenous lands in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest, and to legalize mining activity in areas under Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Attempts have been rejected.

The Brazilian Mining Association (Ibrams), which represents about 130 companies, conducted an internal survey of its members earlier this year, according to its president, Raul Jungmann. He said that for the first time in decades, no company has current research or mining applications for gold, tin, nickel, iron and other ores in indigenous areas. Neither the survey nor its results have been previously reported.

Members of the association, which accounts for 85% of Brazil’s legally produced ore, include mining giants Rio Tinto, Anglo American and Vale. Associated Press contacted all three companies. Rio Tinto confirmed that it withdrew its applications for research concessions in 2019. Anglo American did the same in March 2021. Vale withdrew its requests for research and mining concessions over the previous year.

“Ibrams’ position is that unless you have constitutional regulation, it is not possible to request mining and research authorizations on indigenous lands,” Jungman said over the 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 conducted by geologist Tadeu Veiga, a consultant who also teaches at the National University of Brasilia. Huh.

The mass withdrawal comes as Bolsonaro insists that indigenous regions have significant mineral resources to bring prosperity to both the country and the native people. Brazil’s constitution states that mining can only take place on indigenous land after obtaining informed consent and under the laws regulating the activity. Even after a lapse of more than three decades, such a law is yet to be approved.

Bolsonaro had been pushing to replace him as a fringe parliamentarian even before he became president. During his 2018 presidential campaign, he said deposits of the metal element niobium found under indigenous lands could turn Brazil into a mining powerhouse, but the proposal went out of the way after he took office. According to the US Geological Survey, the available resources of niobium used as an alloy for steel are more than enough to meet the world’s projected needs.

Bolsonaro has repeatedly stated that the roughly 14% of Brazil that lies within indigenous territories is excessive, and that foreign governments are championing indigenous rights and environmental protection as a gamble, in order to ultimately exploit the mineral wealth itself. To be.

“Interest in Amazon is not about the Indian or the damn tree. This is the ore,” he told a crowd of prospects in the capital Brasilia in 2019.

Most recently, in March, he pressured Congress for an emergency vote on a bill drafted in 2020 by his mining and justice ministries to eventually regulate the mining of indigenous lands. He said the emergency voting was necessary because of the war in Ukraine, which threatened vital supplies of potash fertilizer from Russia to Brazil’s vast farmland.

With the legislation, “in two or three years, we will no longer be dependent on importing potash for our agribusiness,” Bolsonaro said. “Agriculture business is the locomotive of our economy.”

However, according to a study by the Federal University of Minas Gerais based on official data, experts note that most of the potash deposits in the Brazilian Amazon are not located in indigenous territory.

Critics have argued that the bill’s primary purpose is to provide legal cover for thousands of potential . Activity increased in recent years amid repeated promises for regulation from Bolsonaro’s government, whose members held several meetings with representatives of prospectors.

Prospector’s sites often grow over time, causing massive damage, eroding river banks, contaminating waterways with mercury and disrupting the traditional ways of life of indigenous peoples. In contrast, industrial-scale mining in the Amazon produces traces deep in the forest, but is mostly confined to the area of ​​the deposit, as in the case of Carajas, the world’s largest open-pit iron ore mine operated by Vale.

In March, while Bolsonaro’s parliamentary base tried to hasten progress on the bill, thousands of indigenous people and their allies protested in front of Congress led by Brazilian singer Caetano Veloso. He soon finds an unlikely ally: Ibrams, the mining consortium that has kept a low profile in the past.

Bolsonaro’s bill “is not suitable for its intended purpose,” Ibrams said in a statement issued a few days later, adding that the regulation of mining in indigenous areas “needs to be widely debated by Brazilian society, particularly indigenous By the people, respecting their constitutional rights, and by the Brazilian Congress.”

Jungman said his union issued the unusual statement, first because it has decided to become more open and transparent after two mining accidents in the state of Minas Gerais in 2015 and 2019 that killed hundreds and contaminated waterways.

The appointment of Jungmann, a high-profile politician who has served as a minister in two centre-right governments, also reflects this change.

Another reason, Jungman said, is increasing pressure at home and abroad to adopt friendlier socio-environmental practices.

“We are not against mining on indigenous land,” he said. “However, we think the bill is inadequate, as it does not comply with International Labor Organization resolution 169, which calls for 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 issue,” he said.

Bolsonaro’s proposal faced yet another international rejection on Thursday, when ecologist Philip Farneside and five other scientists published a paper in the journal Nature that the war in Ukraine was acting as a “pretext for the destruction of the Amazon.”

Indigenous land is essential for maintaining the ecological benefits provided by Brazil’s Amazon Forest, they wrote. “These lands protect more wilderness than federally protected areas.” The letter calls on mineral importers to “make clear that Brazil’s irresponsible actions have consequences,” if the law is passed.

Because of Bolsonaro’s concern, lawmakers have so far refused to vote on the proposed mining law. Jungman said he has met with the presidents of both houses of Congress, as well as the president’s chief of staff, Ciro Nogueira, to explain the industry’s opposition.

In a speech to farmers on 25 April, Bolsonaro dismissed criticism of Ibrams and the Swadeshi movement, alleging that mineral exploration on indigenous lands would only happen with the approval of the affected tribe.

In an email, the mining ministry called mining regulation for indigenous areas long overdue. Lack of regulation brings disorder and environmental damage, it said.

Ibrams-affiliated companies pulling out of indigenous territories does not mean that they or others will close off the Amazon, or that conflicts with indigenous peoples are a thing of the past.

Canada-based Belo Sun Mining Corp is trying to develop what would be the largest open-pit gold mine in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest. Nearby indigenous communities claim they have not been consulted. Another Canadian company, Brazil Potash Corp, is fighting in court to implement a $2.2 billion project near the region of the Mura people, who fear the operation will affect their land.

Neither company is affiliated with Ibrams, which declined to comment about the matters.

The Federal Mining Regulator’s database, known as ANMs, still shows active applications by many large mining companies in indigenous areas. Indigenous groups say this means large mining companies are still interested in their land.

In an emailed response, the regulator said that a withdrawal request goes through a clearing process before an application is officially deactivated. Sometimes it can take years. The ANM declined to give details on the specific applications. Ibrams’ Jungman says the agency needs to address its technical problems.

“Mining companies have heeded social and environmental governance principles. Shareholders and society demand this,” said Viega, who has extensive experience consulting with such companies at Amazon as well as non-profits.[The mining companies]never felt they were taken into account with Bolsonaro’s bill, which was interpreted as an attempt to legalize illegal mining.”


Associated Press climate and environmental coverage is supported by a number of private foundations. See more about Associated Press’s climate initiative here, Associated Press is solely responsible for all content.


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