In response to significant public pressure from civil society groups, Brazilian President Michel Temer issued a 120-day delay to allow for a so-called public debate regarding his controversial presidential decree plan that would eliminate mining restrictions in the National Reserve of Copper & Associated Minerals (RENCA).
President Temer, who is currently facing calls to step down due to corruption allegations, issued a presidential decree last month, which intended to lift a 33-year-old mining ban in the federally preserved area, extending across a 17,930-square-mile area of the country’s eastern Amazon.
The Renca national park is estimated to contain huge amounts of copper, as well as gold, iron ore and other minerals.
If approved, the proposed plan would undermine Brazilian sovereignty in favor of transnational mineral extraction firms, which have been petitioning Temer government for several months to open the reserve to mining, according to Jarbas Vieira with the Movement for Popular Sovereignty over Mining (MAM).
“This plan would result in more conflicts among the local populations of these territories, the loss of our national sovereignty and the right of our people to determine "how, why and what" our land should be used for,” Vieira added.
Meanwhile, environmentalists warn that the decision would lead to devastating ecological impacts such as increased deforestation, land grabbing, water contamination and the displacement of indigenous and rural communities.
However, within 48 hours after the initial presidential decree was issued, the Brazilian public responded with an online public petition, which garnered more than 600,000 signatures from people opposing the measure.
“From my vantage point, the government is underestimating the political consequences with regards to some of the measures that it seeks to carry out. In fact they are not taking into consideration important demands being made by the public,” said Luiz Jardim, Professor of Geography from the State University of Rio de Janeiro.
The 120 day public debate, which was announced by the Temer administration on August 31st, is being met with intense skepticism from leaders of social movements and environmental activists, warning that the public discussions will be highjacked by government officials and leaders from the mining industry.
Jardim, who is also a member of the National Committee of Territories Against Mining warned that, “The debate and discussions will only be held in order to discuss the future implementation of mining in this area. These debates will effectively guarantee mining for this area, which is very worrying from an environmental and societal point of view.”
According to a 2016 report conducted by the Pastoral Land Commission, which monitors land and resource conflicts in Brazil, attributed the increase in conflicts due to agriculture, mining, energy and other companies moving into lands held by traditional and indigenous communities.
Edition: Nate Singham