From University Unisinos

“There is no ‘ green mining ‘: what is proposed is the exploitation and degradation of a region through financial compensation”, writes Leonardo Barros Soares , PhD in Political Science from the Federal University of Minas Gerais and develops comparative research on the policy of territorial recognition in Brazil and Canada, in an article published by Brasil de Fato , 11-03-2019. 

Here’s the article.

Admiral Bento Albuquerque , Minister of Mines and Energy of the Bolsonaro government , said , at an event of the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada on March 4, that the government is studying the opening of Brazilian indigenous lands for exploration by foreign companies so that , according to him, “bring benefits to these communities and also to the country”. Once again we have the same equation: mining , indigenous peoples and Canada , a triad that I wrote about earlier in the text “ Mining and indigenous peoples: Brazil and Canada are in the same boat ”, published in Brasil de Fatoin 2017. It is worthwhile to reflect, albeit briefly, on the minister’s statements, in order to broaden our readers’ reflections on this very controversial topic.

First, it is necessary to remember that the Bolsonaro government has been advocating anti-indigenous policies since its first hour. Statements about the interruption and even the revision of demarcations of indigenous lands already carried out are public and do not shock anyone else. Incidentally, Bolsonaro could be considered an anti-indigenous parliamentarian avant la lettre (ahead of his time, in French) because, remember, he was the only parliamentarian who proposed a legislative decree project to revoke the newly demarcated Ianomâmi indigenous land , held under strong international pressure after the almost complete genocideof that indigenous population caused by – amazingly – the opening of the region to mining . Therefore, Bolsonaro is fulfilling a campaign promise by implementing a proposal that, in his eyes, comes to combat – or reinforce, depending on the perspective – the founding myth of all racism against indigenous peoples not only in Brazil , but across the continent: the idea that Indians are lazy subjects “sitting” on an immense mineral reserve that would be better used by companies and the government.

The debate on mining on indigenous lands also exists in Canada  and, between government and government, with more liberal or conservative orientations, the panorama remains more or less the same: mining companies work hard to obtain individual contracts with indigenous peoples to “develop” a region’s natural resources in exchange for royalties and jobs for communities. There are successful models of partnership between mining companies and indigenous peoples there – especially in those communities that have managed to play on an equal footing with companies – but the issue is far from being consensual. There, as here, there is no “ green mining ”. What is proposed is theexploitation of a given region, which will be degraded, and its financial compensation. The mining will be more or less destructive depending on the technology used and the adjustments to the activity in each country, but it is always destructive. We, who live in Minas Gerais , know this very well.

It is still ironic that Admiral Bento Albuquerque’s statement comes at the very moment when Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is facing his worst political crisis since his election, precisely involving mining companies and indigenous peoples . Jody Wilson-Raybould , the first indigenous woman to assume the post of Minister of Justice and Attorney General in that country, publicly accused Trudeau and other ministers of pressuring her not to continue criminal investigations involving SNC-Lavalin , a mining company in origin in the French-speaking province of Québec . This episode demonstrates that companies in the sector havelobbies with high power of influence, able to access the highest echelons of the Canadian government. Any similarity to the Brazilian case is no coincidence.

The minister also stressed that the communities must be heard, but they will not have veto power over the possibility of installing or not a mining enterprise . Why, then, what will be heard? In order to “comply with the table” and to carry out, only proforma, the international guidelines for free and informed consultation with indigenous communities ? I remembered a process of demarcation of indigenous land that I investigated, which states that, during a meeting with indigenous leaders in the 1970s, the record that “the chief made a long speech in the group’s language and we don’t understand anything ”. That is, they heard the man, but did not listen to his demands. Is this how the community will be heard?

It does not take a great genius of economics, political science or anthropology to know what will happen with the permission mining on indigenous lands : deforestation recrudescido, pollution of water, soil and air, expulsion of fauna native, explosion of infectious diseases , disorderly occupation of urban centers close to the project, among many other problems. In short, a major impact on the local ecosystem and on the affected indigenous peoples and, potentially, a catastrophe of a non-trivial proportion.

I believe that Brazil is going through a time when an in-depth reflection on the national mining model is urgent , which led us to the tragedies of Mariana and Brumadinho . Expanding the scope of mining activity in the country without first revising the model already underway is equivalent to irresponsibly extending its catastrophic effects to territories that are still little affected by the predatory extraction that prevails throughout the country. In other words, it is time to stop to reflect and modify what already exists, and not to expand what is not working, under penalty of going back to experiencing the tragic occurrences with the Cinta-Larga and the Ianomâmis .

I conclude this text by recalling an episode in American history that comes in handy. In the early 1870s, the United States was going through the first major economic downturn in its history, after excessive spending on the Civil War . After the discovery of gold in the Black Hills and authorization for its exploration by then President Ulysses S. Grant , the American army troops faced resistance from the Sioux , Cheyenne and Lakota led by Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse , in battles that dragged on for a decade.

That the Brazilian indigenous peoples will resist this further attack on their rights, it is certain. How they will do this, however, only time will tell.