Protest in Brazil January 19, 2019      Photo: Mídia Índia

Acting without the consent of the indigenous people of the Amazon, who have a guaranteed right to their land under the Brazilian constitution, the country’s new Minister of Mining and Energy announced a plan to permit mining companies to conduct operations on previously protected indigenous lands.  The new President, Jair Bolsonaro, had campaigned and won election last year on a pledge to open these indigenous lands to mining as a way to boost the economy in Brazil.  Mongabay reports that:

  • “The indigenous mining initiative will likely be implemented via a presidential decree, which will almost surely be reviewed, and possibly be rejected, by Brazil’s Supreme Court.”
  • This announcement angered Amazonian Indigenous groups who announced they will challenge the action in the courts and resist by whatever means possible.
  • Mining companies and individuals have submitted more than four thousand permit requests to the Ministry to operate mining-related activities on indigenous land.
  • Brazil’s mining industry has a very poor safety and environmental record — in January a large company had an accident in which a tailings (mine waste) dam collapsed killing 193 miners with another 115 still missing.

Making the announcement at an industry meeting, the Mining Minister defended the action, saying that the rules prohibiting mining are outdated and there are many illegal mining operations on these lands that undermine sustainable development and indigenous sovereign rights. The government is following the same playbook it used when it announced earlier this year that it would open indigenous lands to agricultural development, and just as with agricultural businesses, the new government seems very close to mining companies.

Why This Matters:  President Bolsonaro is meeting tomorrow with President Trump in Washington, where they will undoubtedly reinforce each other’s worst instincts when it comes to conservation and governance. Indeed, Trump and Bolsonaro are expected to discuss mining on indigenous lands because one of the leading companies filing for a permit to explore for uranium on indigenous lands is an American company.  President Bolsonaro, like President Trump and some of his more outrageous executive actions, will have to battle through the courts to ultimately succeed.  But in the meantime, he can create discord within Brazil that is likely to stoke his base.  And if somehow he succeeds, the entire planet will suffer because the Amazon is one of the world’s most important carbon sinks.  

Map: Mauricio Torres, Mongabay

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