By Keshia Hannam
August 26, 2017

A decree that will open up an area of the Amazon roughly the size of Denmark to mining has been widely criticized by everyone from supermodel Gisele Bundchen to lawmakers. Brazil’s government has defended the decision that was passed on Friday, though grave concerns remain around the threat now facing the world’s largest rainforest.

Referring to the land mass as one of riches may become more literal than figurative with the abolishment of the National Reserve of Copper and Associates (Renca), that will now be vulnerable to legal destruction for the purpose of mining the many resources in its reserves. Renca protects the area which is approximately 17,800 square miles (46,000 square km), and has done so since 1984.

President Michel Temer’s defiant decision to open the areas of Amapá and Pará, which is believed to be a significant resource of gold, copper, iron ore and other minerals, has angered environmentalists in particular, who say the area is abounding in biodiversity and is home to myriad species that have yet to be studied. In addition to compromising the indigenous areas (Rio Paru D’Este and Waiãpi) that fall within its borders, environmentalists are also fearful of the potential for deforestation, destruction and even the potential of a gold rush that could result from this official order, as well as the additional pressure on social problems.

Fernando Coelho Filho, Brazil’s Mining and Energy Minister, says there is some relief that protects the area from illegal mining operations. “In an area that mining is permitted, they must follow the law, period,” Coelho said.

The authorization was legitimized in two ways: firstly in the government’s justification of mining activity that avoids a shortage of mineral resources for the nation, and secondly in the hope that allowing legal mining would assist in combating illegal exploration.

“Renca is not a paradise, as some would wrongly like to make it appear,” a statement from the Brazillian government said, according to Reuters.

Analysts remain skeptical that much, if any, positive outcome will result from a president who is known for staking his political survival by increasingly leaning on the powerful agro-industrial lobby, particularly in the midst of turgid corruption scandals. Rodrigues, a member of the opposition Rede party (led by former presidential candidate and environment minister Marina Silva), has proposed blocking the president’s decree, and plans to file lawsuits in Amapá and Pará to carry out the preventative measure. Further, supermodel Gisele Bundchen spoke out on Twitter, calling on Brazilians to protect the Amazon and again about the ‘auctioning of our Amazon’.

“Shame! They are auctioning our Amazon! We cannot destroy protected areas for private interests,” Bundchen wrote in a tweet.

In June, President Temer had tweeted the model articulating intent to veto a measure to reduce protections of other national forests when she criticized the move. This was followed up by a compromise by the President to reduce the protected area by a lesser amount than was originally proposed.

In a 2010 government report, 69% of the Renca area in Amapá state comes under a number of other protections. For this reason, even the simple act of allowing mining near protected areas has potential to generate conflict and put them under threat, according to statements by WWF and Greenpeace. “The measure will accelerate the arrival of infrastructure and people for mining activities in areas of native forest, reproducing in the region the same lack of governance that permits the advance of deforestation and land grabs (elsewhere) in the Amazon,” Greenpeace said in a report by Reuters.

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