Brazil Strips Massive Amazon Reserve Of Protection To Allow Mining

Gold mining in the Amazon can be horribly destructive. Ricardo Funari/Brazil Photos/LightRocket via Getty Images

A huge forest reserve in the Amazon, home to indigenous groups and astounding biodiversity, is to be stripped of its protection and opened up to mining by the Brazilian government. The reserve, created in 1984, is now going to allow exploratory mining of gold and valuable minerals over at least a third of its area.

Straddling the northern Brazilian states of Amapá and Pará, the National Reserve of Copper and Associates (Renca) covers roughly 46,000 square kilometers (17,800 square miles) of lush tropical rainforest containing a wealth of wildlife as well as being the home of indigenous peoples. But it is also thought to cover rich deposits of gold, iron, and manganese, in addition to other minerals.

The opening up of the park to commercial exploitation was issued under a decree by President Michel Temer on Wednesday, apparently in a bid to stimulate the economy. “The objective of the measure is to attract new investments, generating wealth for the country and employment and income for society, always based on the precepts of sustainability,” the government said in a statement.

The reserve, which is larger in size than Denmark, contains nine conservation and indigenous land areas. The government has tried to allay fears, and said that these regions will be off limits, with protected forest areas being unaffected. They have tried to calm the situation by saying that only 30 percent of the park will be open to mining.

But activists are concerned that this doesn’t really matter, and that any activity within the reserve itself, which will bring in more workers, roads, construction, and pollution, will likely compromise these parts of the forest regardless of whether or not mining is physically taking place within them.

A member of the opposition government, Senator Randolfe Rodrigues, has called the decision “the biggest attack on the Amazon in the last 50 years,” according to the O Globo newspaper, and conservation organizations are equally appalled by the move.

The Public Policy Coordinator for WWF Brazil, Michel de Souza, has called the move a “catastrophe”, threatening the pristine environment. He has also denounced the government for abolishing the protection via a decree, without consulting the public or the people who live in and around the reserve.

He is worried that this will mean the operations that will take place in the park will be vulnerable to both corruption and conflict. This is particularly true, according to to the WWF, in regions close to indigenous lands, in which ethnic groups live in relative isolation from the outside world.

"If the government insisted on opening up these areas for mining without discussing environmental safeguards it will have to deal with an international outcry," it said.

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