Brazil’s Bolsonaro pushes for more mining on Indigenous lands

Environmental groups warn that Bolsonaro is using the pretext of the Ukraine crisis to rush a bill that would allow mining.

Stacks of logs
Brazil has relied on Russia for a quarter of its potash, a key ingredient in fertiliser, and is now looking for other sources [File: Adriano Machado/Reuters]

Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro has pushed for a law that would allow mining on Indigenous reservations, seizing on global fertiliser shortages caused by the Ukraine war.

The speaker’s office said the government’s chief whip in the lower house of Congress had gathered enough signatures on Tuesday to fast-track the bill, which means that it could be put to a full vote without committee hearings,

“This crisis between Ukraine and Russia is a good opportunity for us,” Bolsonaro said on Monday in a radio interview. “We have a bill in Congress that will allow us to exploit those Indigenous lands.”

Brazil is one of the world’s top food producers and the largest importer of potash, powder that is obtained from the ashes of burned wood and sometimes used as fertiliser. The country relies on imports for 85 percent of the fertiliser used for its grain crops. And a quarter of Brazil’s demand for potash has usually been met by Russia, which halted exports.

Indigenous child
Indigenous tribes could disappear if more mining is allowed in the Amazon [Adriano Machado/Reuters]

Bolsonaro, who has cut back environmental enforcement in the Amazon and defunded the government’s Indigenous protection agency Funai, has long pushed for more mining and commercial farming in the Amazon to create jobs and reduce poverty.

Bolsonaro has been an outspoken champion of mining the Amazon since his presidential campaign in 2018, promising to unearth the rainforest’s vast mineral wealth. His pro-mining stance has garnered vast support from prospectors. He is widely expected to run for re-election in October.

Brazil has large reserves of potash underground in the Amazon rainforest, including in and around lands inhabited by Indigenous people, whose concerns have held up some mining projects for years.

Last month, Bolsonaro issued two decrees to drive gold prospecting with a focus on the Amazon rainforest.

Environmental and rights groups, geologists and even federal prosecutors warn that Bolsonaro is using the pretext of the Ukraine crisis to rush through a bill that would allow mining, oil exploration and hydroelectric dams on Indigenous lands protected by Brazil’s constitution.

“These are activities that are not allowed today on Indigenous lands,” said Suzi Huff Theodoro, a geologist and professor at the University of Brasilia.

Brazilian president
Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro is using the conflict between Ukraine and Russia to further his long-standing ambitions to increase development in the Amazon [Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters]

Even if the mineral reserves are not exactly under protected Indigenous lands, there should be a buffer area to insulate adjacent tribal communities from the social and environmental impacts of mining, she said.

The public prosecutor’s office for Indigenous cases said in a statement that the bill was unconstitutional and could cause the disappearance of some Indigenous tribes in the Amazon.

Brazil’s powerful farm lobby holds sway in Congress and backs passage of the bill, which could clear the lower house as soon as Wednesday if party whips agree to put it to a vote.

Brazilian researchers argued this week that Bolsonaro is falsely using the Ukraine crisis to advance the mining bill because most of the country’s proven potash reserves are not located under Indigenous reservations.

Only one-third of these reserves are in the Amazon and just 11 percent are under lands claimed by Indigenous communities, a study by the University of Minas Gerais has found.

The reserves could cover Brazil’s demands for potash through the year 2100, according to the study, which is to be published next week.

Source: News Agencies