Brazil forgets COP26 and opens the door to illegal mining in the Amazon | International
“Unacceptable,” said Brazilian Environment Minister Joaquim Leite, commenting on data on the 22% increase in deforestation in the Amazon, the highest in 15 years. Following the COP26, the press conference given by Leite with the Minister of Foreign Affairs Carlos França the last week of November marked a change in the environmental discourse of the Jair Bolsonaro government, of which only one complaint on the subject had never emerged. However, weeks after declaring themselves “surprised” by the data, government officials continue to act in the same way they have in the past three years. At the moment, coordinated action between the Planalto Palace, seat of the presidency, the ruralist banks of the National Congress and mining companies is speeding up a maximum of four bills to change the standards of environmental protection in the country.
One of the changes is to make it easier to operate mines, as illegal illegal mining is commonly referred to, and allowing the illegal occupation of public land. At the same time, the military branch of the executive, this time reflected by the figure of the Minister of the Institutional Security Cabinet, General Augusto Heleno, authorized the start of gold mining projects in seven areas of the forest region of La most protected of the country. The Amazon, known as the “dog’s head”, in the north-west of the Amazon. Currently, there is no mining company in this city which is the area with the highest indigenous density in the country – 76% of its population is made up of indigenous people – and deforestation in one year has increased by 1%.
Non-governmental organizations and representatives of indigenous communities have issued several warnings about the attacks that began at the end of the third year of the Bolsonaro government. The most recent was revealed after a newspaper article Newspaper reveal that General Heleno authorized seven gold mining projects in the vicinity of the city of São Gabriel da Cachoeira. The permit belonged to Heleno in his capacity as Executive Secretary of the National Defense Council, an advisory body of the Presidency of the Republic which must rule on the occupation of this territory, located less than 150 kilometers from a border. São Gabriel da Cachoeira is close to Colombia and Venezuela. About 45,000 indigenous people from 23 towns are concentrated in the town.
At least two more steps must still be taken before the minors enter this territory of 12,700 hectares. The first is an authorization from the National Mines Agency. The second would be to obtain the environmental license, which should be granted by the Amazon Environmental Protection Institute (Ipaam), a state body, i.e. neither federal nor national. The Brazilian Institute of the Environment (Ibama) only authorizes projects on indigenous lands, in environmental conservation units or on lands shared between two or more states, which is not the case .
The movement led by Heleno shows how the military operates in government. While Vice President Hamilton Mourão is appointed head of the National Council of Legal Amazon, where he reiterates the role of environmental protection, the head of the Institutional Security Cabinet (GSI) is acting in a different direction . It seems an agreed-upon game, in the opinion of those who know how the military institution works. In practice, the two end up acting in a similar fashion. “The mentality, the vision of the Brazilian army regarding the use of indigenous lands and the protection of the environment is the same. They understand that it is necessary to occupy the zones, at all costs. And they are using the false argument of national sovereignty, ”said Brazilian Army Reserve Colonel Marcelo Pimentel, researcher on militarism in Brazil.
This land occupation, in practice, does not take into account the social and environmental impact that mining companies have on the environment. There is a consensus among industry professionals that mining, however prudent and regulated, will never leave the place as it was before. This always involves some level of damage, whether to the soil, vegetation or the surrounding population. There are several reports of indigenous peoples with excess mercury – used in mining – in their bodies in mining areas. “Is it more interesting to mine for gold in São Gabriel da Cachoeira than to keep the forest standing?” Of course not. Mining benefits people who are not even from Amazonia and creates a culture that involves more harm than good, ”says Suely Araújo, public policy specialist at the Climate Observatory and former president of Ibama. .
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Indigenous communities living in the region promise to resist and seek legal means to prevent mining. “In the 80s and 90s we managed to get rafts from minors of the Negro River. Now we will fight for that mines don’t settle here, ”Marivelton Baré, president of the Federation of Indigenous Organizations of Río Negro (FOIRN), told MRT. According to him, at least four of the seven areas authorized by the GSI border indigenous lands. In practice, all would end up affecting their territories, since, for mining, it is necessary to deforest and use products which degrade the fauna, flora and rivers. “It doesn’t seem like we have a general-minister, but a general-gold digger», Says Baré ironically.
FOIRN also published a note in which it complained about the attempted mining in the region: “We reject authoritarian attitudes supported by archaic ideals of economic development, which have only led to disease, death and degradation of the Amazon and its peoples. Requested by MRT, the Ministry of the Environment did not comment on the government’s attempt to establish mines in the most protected region of the Amazon.
In recent weeks, on the national territory or during events outside the country, the Government has delivered speeches in which the strengthening of the fight against deforestation is guaranteed. In this sense, Vice-President Mourão and Minister Joaquim Pereira Leite abounded. Failure to put the rhetoric into practice has so far led to opposite results. The National Institute for Space Research has recorded that the rate of deforestation in the Brazilian legal Amazon has increased by 21.97% in one year. Between August 1, 2020 and July 31, 2021, a total of 13,235 square kilometers of forest were cleared. This is the highest figure for the past 15 years. “The performance of the vice president has been disastrous. Just look at the three consecutive increases in deforestation. The government brought a Brazil that does not exist to the Glasgow Climate Summit. What we have seen in reality is that science does not lie, ”explains Greenpeace spokesperson for the Amazon, Rômulo Batista.
“Death combo” in Congress
While the government does little to contain the advance of environmental destruction, the Legislature is easing standards for nature conservation. This week, the Senate Environment Committee attempted to symbolically vote two bills that deal with the occupation of public lands and a third that relaxes environmental permits, allowing the person to self-report to the ‘initiative (within the so-called bill of land grabbing, alluding to the picaresque practice of keeping records with crickets to age them and thus authenticate illegal appropriations of the public domain), instead of carrying out strict control. In this case, it makes environmental licensing the rule rather than the exception. This is what NGOs have called the “death combo”. The licensing project has been postponed until next week.
In the case of the two proposals for the occupation of spaces, they allow people who took possession of public land before 2014 to stay there, even if they have deforested it irregularly. Another is even broader and stipulates the regularization of illegal land until 2019. As there have been some changes in the proposal, it will be further revised next week or at the start of the legislative year in February.
In the House, a working group is studying the new Mining Code, which was presented last week. The main change from the current legislation is that it makes mining an “activity of public utility, of national interest and essential to human life”. If approved, it could give industry special prerogatives. “It would be the same as saying that a mine it’s more important than indigenous land, ”says Batista of Greenpeace.
In addition, the draft of this new code provides that the processes stopped for more than a year at the National Mines Agency will be automatically approved. If this were the case, 93,272 applications for operating, exploitation and research permits would be granted by the agency, according to a survey published by the Infoamazônia portal.
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