Despite the catastrophic dam collapse in Brazil which saw hundreds dead and the image of the mining sector as a whole tarnished, the country’s leaders adamantly open to expanding mining operations in the country.
Today saw the mining sector get further good news at the expense of environmentalists around the world as Brazil’s President said today that the country should open up its Amazonian rain forests reserves to potential mining operations.
While environmentalists have staunchly defended the preservation of the Brazilian rain forests, this isn’t the first time that Brazil has attempted to open up these areas for commercial mining operations. Brazil’s previous president made a similar attempt before an international environmental outcry forced those ambitions to the side.
However, today Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro announced that he could be trying to achieve what his predecessor failed to accomplish. One particular area of the rain forest, the National Reserve of Copper and Associates (Renca) occupies around 17,800 square miles, a landmass the size of Denmark. This geographic area is thought to be extremely rich in minerals such as gold, iron ore, copper and more.
“Let’s talk about Renca. Renca is ours,” said the President at a televised event. “Let’s use the riches that God gave us for the well-being of our population. You won’t’ get any trouble from the Environment Ministry, nor the Mines and Energy Ministry nor any other because our ministries, for the first time in the Republic, all understand and speak the same language: A better Brazil for all of us.”
Earlier in January when Bolsonara first took office, he launched an assault on existing environmental protections with an executive order that transferred the regulation and creation of new reserves to the agriculture ministry, which is close with the agribusiness lobby of Brazil. At the time, the move sparked outrage from various environmental groups and indigenous peoples in the country.
For pro-industrial voices in the country, the current regulatory situation in Brazil is extremely bureaucratic. The Bolsonaro administration previously said that a hypothetical hydroelectric plant project could take over a decade before it could get the appropriate licenses thanks to the various environmental agencies slowing down the approval process for legitimate projects.
However, the Brazilian constitution strongly protects the rights of the indigenous people in these areas, giving them an “inalienable right” to veto projects on their land should they wish. According to Sue Branford, a journalist and expert in the area, Bolsonaro will likely overrule the constitution in one way or another to open up Renco to mining companies.
“It will probably be quite difficult for [him] to take the correct route, which is a constitutional amendment that would have to go through Congress. It’s more likely that Bolsonaro will decide on a presidential decree, which will at least allow him some time to overrule the constitution. He has a big majority in Congress, and the agriculture and mining lobbies in Congress are very strong, so I don’t actually think he will have any real long-term problem,” she said.
For some, it’s surprising that the recent disasters concerning Vale’s (NYSE: VALE) dam bursts haven’t done more to hinder this plan. Time will tell whether Bolsonaro will be more successful than his predecessor in opening up the rain forests.