Brazil’s indigenous handed a “death sentence” with new mining bill

. Feb 14, 2020
Brazil's indigenous handed a "death sentence" with new mining bill Photo: N. Antoine/Shutterstock

In the process of producing a series of articles last year on the continued loosening of protections for indigenous communities in Brazil, the intensification of deforestation in the Amazon Basin, and the Jair Bolsonaro government’s verbal attacks on traditional populations, The Brazilian Report consistently heard the same prognosis from indigenous specialists, environmentalists, and political analysts: that the worst was still to come. Indeed, the dismantling of environmental protection agencies is continuing, and a new bill to permit mining activities on indigenous lands has been called a “death sentence” for traditional populations.

</p> <p>The legislative proposal submitted by the Jair Bolsonaro government would regulate the exploitation of &#8220;mineral, water, and organic resources&#8221; on demarcated indigenous reservations. In essence, this would allow all sorts of activities to be implemented on these protected lands, from the building of mines and hydroelectric dams to farms, ranches, and even tourist resorts.</p> <p>Companies who seek permission to carry out such activities would first need to gain authorization from Congress, presenting proposals that involve financial compensation for the indigenous communities affected.</p> <p>The project fits perfectly in sync with <a href="">President Bolsonaro&#8217;s view of the Amazon</a> as a mineral potential waiting to be profited from. He regularly claims that Brazil&#8217;s indigenous lands are some of the richest in minerals in the world—despite there being no studies to confirm or refute this—and that this supposed wealth &#8220;can&#8217;t remain underground.&#8221;</p> <p>Another claim from the Bolsonaro government is that Brazil&#8217;s indigenous people &#8220;want to be entrepreneurs&#8221; and integrate to wider society, an affirmation that goes against the claims of representative advocacy groups. Mr. Bolsonaro received further criticism from these groups earlier this year when he claimed indigenous people &#8220;were evolving&#8221;: &#8220;they are becoming more and more like us human beings.&#8221;</p> <div id="buzzsprout-player-2725189"></div> <script src=";player=small" type="text/javascript" charset="utf-8"></script> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>&#8220;Death sentence&#8221;</h2> <p>President Bolsonaro claimed that the proposal will only allow mining activities &#8220;if indigenous communities want it,&#8221; but that is not exactly the case. Traditional communities would only be given direct veto power for requests to carry out gold panning on their protected land, but in all other cases, these ancestral communities would have no definitive say.</p> <p>Writing in his column in newspaper <em>Folha de S. Paulo</em>, journalist Jânio de Freitas called the proposal a &#8220;death sentence&#8221; for the Amazon, while influential anthropologist Eduardo Viveiros de Castro told <em>Agência Pública</em> that this is the government&#8217;s &#8220;final offensive against indigenous people.&#8221;</p> <p>For indigenous lands to be used for economic activities such as mining and farming, the territory would first need to be cleared, a process that involves the burning of trees and subsequent deforestation. The communities that live there would essentially <a href="">lose control of their lands</a>, having to make do with financial compensation.</p> <p>When the idea of a legislative proposal to permit mining activities on indigenous lands was first mentioned by the government last year, House Speaker Rodrigo Maia reassured environmentalists and traditional communities that he would shelve any such bill as soon as it arrived on his desk. However, he did no such thing last week, kickstarting the proposal&#8217;s procedure through Congress and even suggesting that it not require a final House floor vote for approval. That said, the proposal will hardly be fast-tracked, as it will have to be analyzed by a total of eight committees before moving on to the Senate.</p> <div id="buzzsprout-player-1548880"></div> <script src=";player=small" type="text/javascript" charset="utf-8"></script> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Pulling the Amazon apart, piece by piece</h2> <p>Meanwhile, the government&#8217;s dismantling of indigenous and environmental advocacy in official agencies is continuing at an alarming pace. At the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation (ICMBio), the Jair Bolsonaro administration announced on Wednesday that six of the agency&#8217;s 11 regional departments will be scrapped entirely. On the same day, the composition of the National Biodiversity Committee (Conabio) was altered to remove all posts reserved for civil society and academia, meaning it will now be exclusively made up of members of the Jair Bolsonaro government.</p> <p>These moves come off the back of a wave of administrative changes at Brazil&#8217;s indigenous affairs agency Funai. Last week, Patxon Metuktire—grandson of globally renowned indigenous activist Raoni Metuktire—was fired from his role at Funai. Mr. Metuktire claimed that the decision was in retaliation for his grandfather&#8217;s opposition to Jair Bolsonaro.</p> <p>In the same week, Funai swapped out three regional coordinators, replacing them with active or retired military officials with little or no experience in indigenous affairs. One of these new faces was José Magalhães Filho, a retired Army captain who has been put in charge of Funai&#8217;s department in the central-western city of Campo Grande, despite having &#8220;first taken an interest in indigenous affairs in 2018.&#8221;</p> <p>Mr. Magalhães Filho caused outrage among the indigenous community when stating, in an interview, that &#8220;[Funai] must prepare little Indians to go to urban schools, to start dating little whites, little negros, little orientals.&#8221; A council of local indigenous peoples has promised to file a lawsuit against his appointment, calling him &#8220;racist,&#8221; &#8220;retrograde,&#8221; and &#8220;anti-constitutional.&#8221;</p> <div id="buzzsprout-player-1240181"></div> <script src=";player=small" type="text/javascript" charset="utf-8"></script> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Environmental disaster</h2> <p>The apparent declaration of open season on the Amazon Basin contained within the proposal to allow mining, farming, and other activities on indigenous reserves poses an added worry for environmentalists. A <a href="">recent study</a> in the scientific journal PNAS, of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, showed that indigenous lands and protected areas serve as some of the <a href="">most efficient barriers against the advance of deforestation</a>.</p> <p>These areas of conservation were responsible for only 10 percent of the Amazon&#8217;s net carbon stock losses between 2003 and 2016, despite making up over half of the region&#8217;s total area. If Brazil is to have any chance to meet the carbon emission reduction goals laid out in the Paris Agreement, the preservation of forests in the Amazon is imperative.

Euan Marshall

Euan Marshall. Originally from Scotland, Euan Marshall is a journalist who ditched his kilt and bagpipes for a caipirinha and a football in 2011, when he traded Glasgow for São Paulo. Specializing in Brazilian soccer, politics and the connection between the two, he authored a comprehensive history of Brazilian soccer entitled “A to Zico: An Alphabet of Brazilian Football.”

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