RIA DE JANEIRA – Some of the world’s largest mining companies have withdrawn requests for exploration and mining in indigenous lands in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil and abandoned the efforts of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonar to legalize mining in these areas.

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 Jungman. For the first time in decades, none of the companies have ongoing research or mining for gold, tin, nickel, iron and other ores in local areas, he said. Neither the poll nor its results have been reported before.

The members of the association, which accounts for 85% of legally mined ore in Brazil, include mining giants Rio Tinto, Anglo American and Vale. AP contacted all three companies. Rio Tinto has confirmed that it has withdrawn its concession applications for research in 2019. Anglo American did the same in March 2021. Vale has withdrawn its requests for a concession for research and mining over the past year.

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“Ibrahm’s position is that you can’t ask for permission to extract and explore indigenous lands if you don’t have constitutional regulation,” Jungman said by phone.

About two-thirds of the applications were submitted to the Federal Mining Agency before the government officially declared them indigenous, according to a study by geologist Thaddeus Weig, a consultant who also teaches at the National University of Brasilia.

A collective retreat occurs when Bolsonara insists that indigenous areas contain mineral resources vital to the well-being of both the nation and indigenous peoples. The Brazilian Constitution states that mining can take place on indigenous lands only after obtaining informed consent and in accordance with the laws governing this activity. More than three decades later, such legislation has not yet been approved.

Balsanara sought to change this even before he became president as a legislator. During his 2018 presidential campaign, he said deposits of the metallic element niobium found in indigenous lands could turn Brazil into mining power, but that offer fell through after he took office. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the available niobium resources, used as an alloy for steel, are more than enough to meet the projected needs of the world.

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Bolsanara has repeatedly stated that nearly 14% of Brazil’s indigenous territories are excessive, and that foreign governments are upholding indigenous rights and preserving the environment as a habit to ultimately exploit mineral wealth on their own.

“The interest in the Amazon is not related to the Indian or the devil’s tree. It’s ore, ”he told a crowd of miners in the Brazilian capital in 2019.

Most recently, in March, he pressured Congress to vote urgently on a bill drafted and submitted in 2020 by his Ministries of Mining and Justice to finally settle indigenous land mining. He said an emergency vote was necessary because of the war in Ukraine, which threatened important supplies of potash fertilizers from Russia to Brazil’s vast agricultural lands.

If the law is in force, “in two or three years we will no longer depend on potassium imports for our agro-industrial complex,” said Bolsson. “Agribusiness is the locomotive of our economy.”

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

Critics say the main purpose of the bill is to legally cover up thousands of veterans. Activities have unfolded in recent years amid repeated promises of regulation by the Bolsonar government, whose members have held several meetings with representatives of the elders.

The plots of the ancients often grow over time, causing enormous damage, destroying river banks, polluting waterways with mercury and disrupting the traditional way of life of indigenous peoples. In contrast, industrial-scale mining in the Amazon creates deep cuts in the forest but is mostly limited by the area of ​​the deposit, as is the case with Carajas, the world’s largest open-pit iron ore mine operated by Vale.

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In March, as Bolsonar’s parliamentary base tried to speed up the bill, thousands of indigenous people and their allies protested in front of Congress, led by Brazilian singer Caetano Velazzo. They soon found an unlikely ally: Ibram, a mining association that had held little in the past.

Bolsanar’s bill is “out of order,” Ibram said in a statement issued days later, adding that regulating mining in indigenous areas needs to be widely discussed in Brazilian society, especially indigenous peoples, while respecting their constitutional rights. and the Congress of Brazil ”.

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

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The appointment of Jungman, a high-ranking politician who was a minister in the two center-right governments, also reflects this shift.

Another reason, Jungman said, is to increase pressure at home and abroad to adopt more friendly socio-environmental methods.

“We are not against the extraction of minerals in indigenous lands,” he said. “However, we consider this bill inadequate, as it does not comply with Resolution 169 of the International Labor Organization, which requires free, prior and informed consent. Second, it does not close the loophole for illegal mining. Third, we want a project that preserves the environment, especially the rainforest. ”

“Intelligence that kills and destroys communities is a matter for the police, not an economic problem,” he added.

Bolsonar’s proposal suffered another international rejection on Thursday when environmentalist Philip Fernside and five other scientists published a letter in the journal Nature warning that the war in Ukraine was “an occasion to destroy the Amazon.”

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Indigenous lands are important for preserving the environmental benefits that the Brazilian Amazon forest provides, they wrote. “These lands protect more forests than federal protected areas.” The letter urges mineral importers to “continue possible boycotts to make it clear that Brazil’s irresponsible actions have consequences” if the law is passed.

Unfortunately for Bolsonar, lawmakers are still refusing to put to a vote the proposed mining law. Jungman said he met with the presidents of both houses of Congress to explain the opposition to the industry, as well as with President Siro Nogueira.

In a speech to farmers on April 25, Bolsonara dismissed criticism from the Ibrahim movement and indigenous peoples, arguing that mineral exploration in indigenous lands would be conducted only with the approval of the affected tribe.

In an email, the Ministry of Mining called the regulations on mining for indigenous areas long ago. Lack of regulation brings disorder and harm to the environment, the report said.

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Ibrahim-related campaigns coming out of indigenous territories do not mean that they or others will stop mining the Amazon, or that conflicts with indigenous peoples are a thing of the past.

Canadian company Belo Sun Mining Corp is trying to develop the largest open pit gold mine in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil. Indigenous communities nearby say they have not been consulted. Another Canadian company, Brazil Potash Corp., is fighting in court for a $ 2.2 billion project near the Moore people, fearing the operation will affect their land.

None of the companies is associated with Ibrahm, who declined to comment on the case.

The database of the federal mining regulator, known as the ANM, still displays the active applications of many large mining companies in indigenous areas. Indigenous groups say this means that large mining companies are still interested in their land.

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In an email response, the regulator said the withdrawal request is undergoing a clearing process before the application is officially inactive. Sometimes it can take years. ANM declined to provide details on specific applications. Jungman of Ibrahm says the agency needs to overcome its technical challenges.

“Mining companies have shown increasing attention to social and environmental management principles. This is required by shareholders and society, ”said Veiga, who has extensive experience advising such companies on Amazon as well as for nonprofits. “And they (the mining companies) never felt they were being taken into account with the Bolsonar bill, which was interpreted as an attempt to legalize illegal mining.”

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