Portending Disaster for Mankind: Michel Temer opens the Amazon for Mining

On August 23, 2017 Michel Temer, President of Brazil thanks to the effective coup which displaced elected President Dilma Rousseff, issued a decree abolishing a large national reserve which was established in 1984 to protect a substantial part of the Amazon region from mining and other development activities which would threaten the “Lungs of the Earth”. In a second decree on August 28, Temer provided for a committee to review mining permits in the region. His August 23 decree opened up 4.6 million hectares (17,800 square miles) of lands to mining and related activities. It also abolished protection of the National Copper and Associated Reserve. In an action mirroring the anti-regulatory fetish of the Trump Administration in the United States, Temer’s initial decree shifted all of the responsibility for monitoring environmental standards away from the government and to the mining companies themselves. (1) In other words, the fox was chosen to guard the hen house.

This measure eliminates important protections provided to indigenous and traditional communities located within the vast area covered by the Temer decree. It will very likely lead to large mining projects by multinational mining corporations threatening indigenous populations and small-scale farmers. We know from mining projects elsewhere in Brazil and in neighboring Colombia that they interfere with and pollute water sources, while scarring the earth and leaving tailings and other byproducts of the mining process to contaminate the environment.

Nor do these projects typically provide substantial long-term employment in the areas where they are located; mining operations by multinational corporations are highly mechanized, requiring few workers after the initial construction phase. In Colombia the national government has provided tax incentives and mining concessions on very favorable terms to multinational corporations with a 4% royalty charge for gold mining; these terms practically provide mining concessions as a gift to the mining companies.

And ignoring the Amazon region’s vital importance to the environment on a global scale, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has pushed for construction of a Trans-Amazon highway from Belem on the Atlantic Coast of Brazil to Tumaco on the Pacific Coast of Colombia. This highway, designed to provide adequate transportation for proposed multinational mining projects in the Sibundoy Valley, as well as for other commercial ventures, has been designed to pass through water-producing mountains at the edge of the valley, which are also sacred lands of the Kamentsa indigenous community. These lands were part of a forest reserve, which the Colombian government has breached in building this highway. The residents of the valley have reason to believe that construction of the highway, called the “San Francisco to Mocoa variante” will cause the valley to lose protective water production in the mountains, drying up lands used for food crops. And this activity destructive of the environment in Colombia will combine with President Temer’s opening of the neighboring Brazilian Amazon region to mining to produce an environmental threat of global proportions.

We must publicize these threats, and oppose them, if we are to save the earth for the future of humanity. The potential consequences could not be more dramatic.

Jack Laun

President, Colombia Support Network

  1. The reporting and analysis of the Temer decrees cited here is by Zoe Sullivan in “Mongabay, News and Inspiration from Nature’s Frontline” on August 24 and 30, 2017. See https://news.mongabay.com/by/zoe-sullivan/.

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