Brazil backs off mining bid in Amazon nature reserve

The Brazilian government has pledged to reinstate a mining ban in an Amazonian nature reserve, reversing its earlier course after an international outcry. Greenpeace says several illegal mines are active in the area.

President Michel Temer will restore protective measures for the reserve in a decree on Tuesday, the Ministry of Mines and Energy said.

Nature and Environment | 19.09.2017

In August, Brazil's government announced a decision to allow mining in Renca, an Amazonian nature reserve that covers an area slightly larger than Denmark. The resource-rich Renca is a home to three indigenous tribes and includes a section of the world's largest rainforest.

Karte RENCA Brasilien Amazonas Naturreservat ENG

Brazilian officials argued that allowing mining would boost the local economy and allow oversight, in contrast to current wildcat mining operations. Authorities also claimed that opening the area for mining would not affect other legal measures protecting the environment and the native population.

Read more: Nature under attack in Brazil

Nature and Environment | 30.08.2017
Brasilien Illegale Bergarbeit

Illegal gold mines are rife in many parts of Brazil

Widespread criticism

The proposal sparked a flurry of criticism, both from inside and outside the country.

Environmental groups such as Greenpeace criticized the bid, along with the Catholic Church, celebrities and opposition lawmakers in the parliament.

In late August, a judge also granted an injunction to block the decree.

Read more: Brazil court blocks decree to open up Amazon area to mining

While the government quickly decided to suspend and eventually reverse the decision, officials said Monday that the decision would need to be revisited after a wider debate.

Marcio Astrini, a public policy coordinator for Greenpeace Brazil, said Monday's announcement showed no leader is "absolutely immune" to pressure.

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"It is a victory of society over those who want to destroy and sell our forest," he said. "Renca is just a battle. The war against the Amazon and its different peoples, promoted by Temer and big agribusiness, is still on."

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Green lungs

Tropical rainforest in the Amazon covers almost twice as much land as India. Three-quarters of it is located in Brazil. These green lungs of the Earth are threatened by illegal logging and mining.

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Caught red-handed

Together with the military police, agents of the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA) hunt for illegal loggers, trying to catch them in action. In this photo, an IBAMA agent is targeting a logging truck.

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Direct hit

IBAMA goes head-on against illegal loggers. Whoever is caught feels the iron fist of the authorities - like those above, near the city of Novo Progresso in the state of Pará. The wood was burned on site - together with the trucks.

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Dangerous work

The forest protection work carries high risk, as many illegal loggers are armed. In June, a policeman was shot dead.

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Hard-won success

In this case, IBAMA agents were successful. But such success is becoming less frequent. The economic crisis has also affected the environmental agency, and its funding has been reduced by about a third over recent years.

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Poor equipment

The loss of funding has consequences: "The loggers are better equipped than us," said Uiratan Barroso, representative of the state of Para. "As long as we lack money for unmarked vehicles and acceptable radios, we cannot carry out our work properly."

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Failures showing

From 2004 and 2012, the rate of deforestation in the Amazon decreased by 80 percent. But over the last four years, it has increased by 35 percent. In 2015, a forest area four times larger than Los Angeles was cleared.

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Support from Germany and Norway

The Brazilian government admits that IBAMA is poorly equipped to carry out its tasks. The Amazon Fund, aimed at raising donations to combat deforestation, will provide 56 million reais (around 15 million euros) to help improve the situation. The money is coming mainly from Germany and Norway.

dj/cmk (AFP, Reuters)