Research by the NGO Ekō, which monitors the behavior of business corporations in the areas of human rights and the environment, identified that large mining companies are interested in 77 of the 120 indigenous lands claimed, but not yet approved by the Brazilian government, including places occupied by isolated peoples. Brazilian law prohibits mining on indigenous land.
The survey identified that they are the target of 581 active exploration requests at the ANM (National Mining Agency). There are points in 18 states, but 59% of the total cases are in the so-called Legal Amazon, which covers Acre, Amapá, Amazonas, Mato Grosso, Pará, Rondônia, Roraima, Tocantins and a part of Maranhão.
The Amazon region is already a producer of ores such as iron, copper, aluminum, gold and tin. According to the MME (Ministry of Mines and Energy), one third of the Legal Amazon has potential for exploring metallic ores.
Among the claimants located by Ekō are global giants that have announced their intention not to mine on indigenous land, such as Anglo American, from the United Kingdom, which has 39 active processes, and Vale, with 4. The list also includes smaller groups, such as Bemisa , with 6 processes.
When contacted by the report, the largest companies mentioned in the study stated that they have already given up on the processes located by Ekō and attribute their remaining in the database to ANM’s delay in removing them. Bunge, for example, said that, although the orders are in its name, they relate to operations it sold to Vale in 2010. The company has not been mining in Brazil since then.
Exploration on indigenous land is also rejected by the entity that represents a large part of the mining companies, Ibram (Brazilian Mining Institute), which reinforced the difficulties with ANM.
“I was with minister Marina Silva [Meio Ambiente] in February and I stated that mining on indigenous land is not on our agenda, that we are against it and will not address the issue until a decision is made by Congress”, stated Raul Jungmann, president of Ibram.
“We also take a stand against the project that opens gaps for exploration on indigenous land and does not adequately consult these populations, as provided for in ILO resolution 169 [Organização Internacional do Trabalho].”
Jungmann says he asked the agency to conduct a survey of mining companies that requested exploration on indigenous lands. “ANM never responded, and we know why: lack of structure and organization, systems completely backward.”
He states that he then sent a circular to associates requesting the same information. “I received numerous responses, with companies saying that they had had processes in requested areas, but withdrew or that they had never had requests in indigenous lands.”
ANM limitations are public. It suffers from a lack of resources and there are constant protests from employees demanding more staff.
In the report, the ANM said that it approves the withdrawal of requests incident to indigenous lands after verifying the legitimacy of this withdrawal. “It is not possible to establish an average period between the petition protocol (communication/request for withdrawal) and the approval carried out by the agency”, he highlighted, in a note.
The Ekō team states that active requests end up functioning as a waiting list for future mining, which could be unlocked, for example, with changes in laws.
One of them is the time frame. According to this thesis, indigenous people would only have the right to occupy regions where they were or were already in dispute on the date of promulgation of the 1988 Constitution. PL (bill) 2,903/2023, with the measure, passed the Chamber and is in the Senate.
The time frame has also been judged by the STF (Supreme Federal Court). The score in the Court is 4 votes against and 2 in favor. The trial should resume this Wednesday (20).
At the same time, PL 191/2020 is also in Congress, which allows mining, oil and gas exploration and electricity generation on indigenous lands without the guarantee that the inhabitants would have decision-making power. In May, the process was suspended at the request of the Ministry of Justice, but environmentalists fear that it could be discontinued.
“As the mining processes at ANM are in the system as assets, unfortunately, they can be used at any time, in the event of a change in company management, in the interest of some ore or even in the event of a legal change. If the time frame is approved, for example, companies can easily explore these areas, even if they have announced their withdrawal”, says Flora Arduini, campaigns director at Ekō.
Environmentalists also reinforce that, if the sector has changed, it needs to be more active on the regulatory flank.
“If these companies really want to dissociate themselves from exploration on indigenous land, they need to demand that the agency withdraw the requests”, says Vanessa Lemos, campaigns coordinator at Ekō.
Among the areas that concentrate requests is the region inhabited by the Munduruku people in the Tapajós basin, in Pará. The place is part of the Tapajós Mineral Province, an area measuring 100 thousand kmtwo considered one of the largest gold-bearing districts in the world.
The Munduruku demand the creation of the Sawre Ba’pim Indigenous Land, which has 81 active requests, 13 from Anglo American and 1 from Vale.
Another much sought after area of Mundurukus that has not yet been approved is Sawré Muybu, which has 21 active Anglo American processes.
The company appeared with 27 requests in another survey, from 2020. This led to protests against the mining company — and a public stance that it would not enter indigenous lands. The demonstrations even affected its investors, such as the global fund BlackRock.
As Sawré Muybu has been heavily affected by illegal mining, there was an expectation that the Lula government would prioritize its approval. The report highlights that, in an interview with researchers in April, indigenous leader Maria Leusa Munduruku said that she had been informed by Funai that the demarcation was just awaiting the green light from the Civil House.
Another coveted area is that of the Mura people. Potássio do Brasil, which appears in the survey with 16 active processes, has the Autazes Project, in Amazonas, in a region where there are indigenous claims. The company told the report that it maintains 4 of these processes, but stated that the area in which it intends to install itself is not on that list and was claimed after the project was announced.
There is an intense socio-environmental discussion about potassium in Autazes, and residents who defend mining have even threatened indigenous people. The project was a priority in the last government and continues to be so under the Lula administration.
In a note, the MME detailed that the investment of R$13 billion, the generation of thousands of jobs and the reduction of Brazilian agribusiness’ dependence on fertilizer imports (from 96% to 76%) are considered vital.
“The Autazes Project is considered strategic for the federal government from a social and economic point of view”, highlighted the ministry.
Wanted by Sheet, the company Santa Elina did not return until the publication of this text. The report was unable to locate the companies Falcon Metais, Sudamerica, Mineração Apoena, Los Andes Mineração and Mineração Silvana.