Government pushes for mining in indigenous land

indigenous land The government's House whip, Ricardo Barros. Photo: Paulo Sérgio/CD/CC-BY 4.0
The government’s House whip, Ricardo Barros. Photo: Paulo Sérgio/CD/CC-BY 4.0

Taking his cue from President Jair Bolsonaro, the government’s House whip Ricardo Barros began gathering signatures to fast-track a bill permitting mining and agricultural ventures within indigenous lands.

The government is trying to use the war in Ukraine as an excuse to push forward the measure, claiming that sanctions on Russia and Belarus — Brazil’s top fertilizer suppliers — will disrupt Brazilian agribusiness. Yesterday, Mr. Bolsonaro posted a 2016 video in which he defends the exploitation of indigenous lands for economic purposes as a way to pressure congressmen into approving the bill.

Mr. Barros told The Brazilian Report that he is negotiating with party whips to bring the matter to a floor vote as early as next week. 

The Mines and Energy Ministry claims to have found new reserves in the Amazon Basin that increase Brazil’s potential for producing potassium — a key input for the fertilizers industry — by 70 percent.

But passing the bill would not be an instant fix to Brazil’s fertilizer supply issues. For one, the authorization of land exploitation doesn’t mean companies wouldn’t have to jump multiple — and lengthy — regulatory hoops. Moreover, there are already hundreds of mineral exploitation requests pending for non-protected areas — which could be used to mitigate the effects of sanctions.

Environmental organizations say greenlighting economic activities on indigenous land would accelerate deforestation rates in the country and have detrimental effects on native communities. Recently, The Brazilian Report showed that large mining companies have applied to exploit indigenous lands that combine for an area the size of England.

Regardless of the war in Ukraine, passing the bill was already one of Mr. Bolsonaro’s top priorities for the year in Congress. Another is the so-called “Poison Bill,” which loosens regulations on pesticides.