Some of the world’s largest mining companies have withdrawn their applications to explore and extract minerals on indigenous lands in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest and have repudiated President Jair Bolsonaro’s efforts to legalize extractive activities in those areas.
The Brazilian Mining Institute (Ibram), which represents some 130 companies, carried out an internal survey of its members this year, according to Raul Jungmann, its president. For the first time in decades, neither firm has submitted applications to explore for or extract gold, tin, nickel, iron or other minerals in indigenous areas, he added.
Neither the consultation nor its results were previously reported.
The members of the association, which represent 85% of legal mineral extraction in Brazil, include mining giants Rio Tinto, Anglo American and Vale.
The Associated Press has contacted all three companies. Rio Tinto confirmed that it withdrew its applications for exploration concessions in 2019. Anglo American did the same in March 2021. Vale withdrew its applications for exploration and extraction concessions in the last year.
“Ibram’s position is that it is not possible to request authorizations to carry out mining and exploration on indigenous lands unless there is a constitutional regulation,” Jungmann said by phone.
About two-thirds of the applications were filed with the federal mining agency before the government said they were demarcated in indigenous territories, according to a study by geologist Tadeu Veiga, an adviser who also teaches at the National University of Brasilia.
The collective withdrawal comes as Bolsonaro insists that indigenous territories contain vital mineral resources to bring prosperity to both the nation and indigenous peoples.
The Brazilian Constitution establishes that mining can only be carried out in indigenous territories after informed consent is obtained and in accordance with laws that regulate the activity. More than three decades later, the corresponding bill is still not approved.
Bolsonaro demanded that they make the respective modifications even before he was president when he was a legislator with marginal influence.
During his 2018 presidential campaign, he said the metallic element niobium, found on indigenous lands, could turn Brazil into a mining power, but the proposal fell by the wayside after he took office.
Available resources of niobium, used in steel alloys, are more than enough to supply the world’s projected needs, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS).
On Friday, Bolsonaro met with SpaceX and Tesla chief executive Elon Musk in Brazil and suggested producing batteries with niobium, but said later that the tycoon showed no interest. “At the moment, they don’t consider it important. They think they have to wait a little longer to invest in this area,” he said.
Bolsonaro has repeatedly said that it is excessive that almost 14% of the country is indigenous territory, and that foreign governments are defending the rights of indigenous communities and environmental preservation as part of a maneuver to take advantage of mineral wealth themselves.