Mining company far from the indigenous areas of Brazil

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RIO DE JANEIRO – Some of the world’s largest mining companies have withdrawn requests for mineral exploration and extraction in the aboriginal lands of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest, and have rejected efforts by Brazilian President Zaire Bolsonaro to legalize mining activity in the region.

The Brazilian Mining Association (IBRAM), which represents about 130 companies, conducted an internal survey of its members earlier this year, according to its president Raul Jangman. For the first time in decades, no company has current research or mining applications for gold, tin, nickel, iron and other ores in the tribal areas, he said. Neither the survey nor its results have been announced before.

Members of the association, which accounts for 85% of Brazil’s legally produced ore, include mining giants Rio Tinto, Anglo-American and Val. AP has contacted three companies. Rio Tinto has confirmed that it has withdrawn its applications for research exemption in 2019 Anglo-Americans did the same thing in March 2021 Val withdrew his requests for research and mining concessions last year

“Abram’s position is that it would not be possible to request approval for mining and research on tribal land without your constitutional rule,” Jangman said by phone.

According to a survey conducted by Tadeu Vega, a consulting geologist who teaches at the National University of Brasilia, about two-thirds of applications were submitted to the Federal Mining Agency before the government officially recognized them as indigenous areas.

Collective retreat comes when Bolsonaro emphasizes that indigenous areas have mineral resources that are important to bring prosperity to both the nation and the local people. The Brazilian constitution states that excavations can only take place on indigenous lands after obtaining known consent and under law governing activity. More than three decades later, this national law has not yet been approved.

Bolsonaro insisted on changing it as a legislator before he became president. During his 2018 presidential campaign, he said deposits of niobium found under indigenous land could turn Brazil into a mining powerhouse, but the proposal fell through after he took office. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the available resources of Neobium, which is used as an alloy for steel, are sufficient to meet the expected demand of the world.

Bolsonaro has repeatedly said that about 14% of Brazil, which is in the tribal areas, is overcrowded, and that foreign governments are championing the rights of indigenous peoples and environmental protection as a gambit to ultimately tap mineral resources themselves.

“Amazon is not interested in Indian or curse trees. It’s ore, ”he told a crowd of protesters in the capital, Brasilia, in 2019.

Most recently, in March, he finally pressed Congress for an emergency vote on a bill drafted and introduced in 2020 by his Ministry of Mines and Justice to control the mining of indigenous land. He said an emergency vote was needed because of the war in Ukraine, which threatened a significant supply of fertilizer potash from Russia to Brazil’s vast agricultural lands.

“In two or three years, we will no longer be dependent on potash imports for our agribusiness,” Bolsonaro said. “Agribusiness is the locomotive of our economy.”

Experts were quick to point out that most potash deposits on the Amazon in Brazil are not located in indigenous areas, according to a study by Minas Gerais Federal University based on official data.

Critics have argued that the bill’s primary purpose is to provide legal cover for thousands of viewers. Activity has increased in recent years amid repeated pledges from the Bolsonaro government to take control, with members holding several meetings with representatives of the protesters.

Prospect sites often grow over time, causing massive damage, destroying river banks, contaminating waterways with mercury, and disrupting indigenous traditional livelihoods. In contrast, industrial-scale mining in the Amazon creates deep scars in forests, but is mostly confined to deposits, as in the case of Carazas, the world’s largest open-pit iron ore mine, operated in Vale.

In March, as Bolsonaro’s parliamentary base tried to speed up the bill, thousands of tribals and their allies protested in front of Congress, led by Brazilian singer Catano Veloso. They soon find an unlikely ally: Abram, the mining association, which has kept a low profile in the past.

Balsonaro’s bill is “not appropriate for its intended purpose,” Ibram said in a statement issued a few days later, adding that mining control in tribal areas “needs to be widely debated by Brazilian society, especially indigenous peoples, while respecting their constitutional rights.”

Jungman said his association issued the unusual statement, firstly, because it decided to be more open and transparent after two mining accidents in the state of Minas Gerais in 2015 and 2019 that killed hundreds of people and polluted waterways.

The appointment of Jungman, a high-profile politician who has been a minister in two central-right governments, also reflects this change.

Another reason, Jangman says, is increasing pressure at home and abroad to adopt friendly socio-environmental practices.

“We are not against mining on tribal land,” he said. “However, we feel that the bill is inadequate because it does not comply with International Labor Organization Resolution 169, which requires free, prior and informed consent. Second, it does not close the loopholes for illegal mining. Third, we want a project that saves the environment, especially the rainforest. ”

“The demonstration, which kills and destroys the community, is a case for the police, not an economic problem,” he added.

Balsonaro’s proposal received another international rejection on Thursday when environmentalist Philip Farnside and five other scientists published a letter in the journal Nature warning that the Ukraine war was acting as “an excuse to destroy the Amazon.”

Indigenous land is essential for maintaining the environmental benefits provided by the Brazilian Amazon Forest, they wrote. “These lands protect more forests than federal protected areas.” The letter called on mineral importers to “follow through with a possible boycott to clarify the consequences of Brazil’s irresponsible actions” if the law is passed.

To the chagrin of Bolsonaro, lawmakers have so far refused to vote on the proposed mining law. Jangman said he had met with presidents in both houses of Congress, as well as the president’s chief of staff, Ciro Noguera, to explain the opposition to the industry.

In a speech to farmers on 25 April, Bolsonaro rejected criticism from Abram and the tribal movement, alleging that mineral exploration in tribal lands would only take place with the approval of the affected tribes.

In an email, the Ministry of Mines has long called for mining control for tribal areas. Lack of regulation leads to chaos and damage to the environment, it says.

The removal of Abrams affiliates from indigenous areas does not mean that they or others will stop mining the Amazon, or that disputes with indigenous peoples are a thing of the past.

Canada-based Belo Sun Mining Corporation is trying to build 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 for the implementation of a 2 2.2 billion project near the Mura People’s Territory, fearing that the campaign could affect their land.

No company was involved with Abrams, which declined to comment on the case.

The Federal Mining Regulator’s database, also known as ANM, still reflects the active applications of many large mining companies in the tribal areas. Indigenous groups say this means that large mining companies are still interested in their land.

In an emailed response, the regulator stated that an application was formally deactivated before a withdrawal request went through a clearing process. Sometimes this can take years. ANM declined to provide details of specific applications. Abram’s Jangman says the company needs to overcome technical problems.

“Mining companies have shown increasing interest in social and environmental governance policies. Shareholders and the community demand it, “said Vega, who has extensive experience advising on Amazon as well as nonprofits. “And they (the mining company) never felt that they were being considered for the Bolsonaro bill, which was interpreted as an attempt to legalize illegal mining.”

The Associated Press receives support from a variety of individual foundations for climate and environmental coverage. See more about AP’s climate initiatives here. AP is solely responsible for all content.

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