Barrage of mining requests targets Brazil’s isolated indigenous peoples

Original story by The Mining Observatory translated and published by Mongabay

Nearly 4,000 requests have been submitted for mining-related activities on 31 indigenous reserves and 17 protected areas in Brazil, according to recently obtained data.

The figures from the nongovernmental Socio-Environmental Institute (ISA) and the National Mining Agency reveal, for the first time, the extent of the mining industry’s plans that could affect up to 71 known isolated indigenous communities. Of the 3,773 requests, the vast majority, or 3,053, are for research purposes.

The ISA has catalogued 120 records of isolated peoples in the Amazon, 28 of them officially confirmed and the other 92 in the process of study and certification by the National Indian Foundation (Funai). That means the proposed mining-related activities threaten more than half of all known isolated indigenous peoples in the Amazon today, a group whose population is already considered one of the most vulnerable in the country.

The threat is compounded by the fact Funai has ordered an end to official supervision of 10 indigenous reserves inhabited by isolated peoples, as reported by the newspaper O Globo.

In practice, this further clears the path for illegal mining and mass invasions of these territories. A report by the nongovernmental Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI) recorded 160 invasions of indigenous territories between January and September last year, a substantial increase from the 111 recorded for the whole of 2018. Experts see this as a direct consequence of the policies of President Jair Bolsonaro and the lack of action from Justice Minister Sergio Moro, who has the power to curb these invasions.

Bolsonaro recently signed a bill that clears the way for widespread exploration in indigenous lands for mining, oil, natural gas, hydroelectric plants, ranching and more. The indigenous communities will have no veto power.

In the bill, which now goes to Congress for analysis, Bolsonaro ignored two recommendations from Funai vetoing the exploration of natural resources on indigenous lands where isolated peoples live. As such, the federal government is signaling a free-for-all that defies the Constitution and international treaties Brazil has signed.

ISA researcher Antonio Oviedo said Brazil is beginning to see very clear indicators of the impact of the federal government’s policies a year since Bolsonaro took office. “Whenever he makes statements against the environmental agencies responsible for oversight, the deforestation statistics automatically jump the very same month. In terms of isolated peoples, there is a set of territories that have been heavily targeted in this surge of invasions.”

Oviedo shared statistics soon to be published in an upcoming ISA report: while deforestation in the Amazon increased by an average of 25% last year, and by 80% on indigenous lands, deforestation rates in areas where isolated peoples are present rose by 114% last year compared with 2018. When compared with 2017, the rate of increase was 364%.

“The deforestation is a clear indicator of the impact the policies are having. And the isolated peoples are suffering from increasing pressure and threats. You have a policy to weaken the coordination of isolated peoples at Funai, shutting down the monitoring bases in the Yanomami and Vale do Javari indigenous lands, for example, all of which creates a very worrying situation,” Oviedo said.

In terms of the project requests submitted to the government, Oviedo said the dismantling of Funai’s powers and a freeze on demarcating indigenous territories prevent qualified experts from discussing these projects with indigenous organizations or improving the systems to protect and monitor the lands.

“The peoples have the protocol of consultation that says they have to be consulted so that they are able to understand the project, discuss it and come to a decision. Oftentimes the government thinks that can be taken care of in a two-hour meeting,” he said.

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Original story published in The Mining Observatory

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