Eye on the Amazon

After Deafening Global Outcry, the Brazilian Government Retreats on Plan to Permit Mining in Massive Amazonian Reserve

Photo credit: Amazon Watch

An extremely unpopular and flagrantly corrupt president who came to power under a cloud of illegitimacy abuses his powers to force through regressive and discriminatory policies which would lay waste to the environment and dramatically alter society for generations. Mass mobilizations and existing democratic institutions such as the courts resist his authoritarian attacks and have scored some important victories. Sound familiar?

Although we could be talking about Trump and the U.S. today, in this case we're referring to Brazil, where President Temer is pursuing a very similar course of radical right-wing restructuring, and the Brazilian people and institutions are rising to resist him.

A tremendous national and international public outcry from all walks of society – from artists and activists, indigenous communities, and legal experts – forced Temer to roll back his original decree to allow mining in a large, pristine area of the Amazon rainforest. Although it's important to note that this is just a suspension and not a complete revocation of the order, the activists and their allies who have mobilized against this (including Amazon Watch!) will not let up until he abandons this plan altogether.

After issuing a unilateral decree last week that opened up a vast region of the Brazilian Amazon to industrial mining, President Michel Temer's government suddenly backtracked, stating that no permits will be issued to companies seeking to operate there until the implications of this move have been clarified and discussed. His government's directive to open the 17,700-square-mile region, known as Renca, to destructive mining projects in highly sensitive ecosystems that border on protected areas and indigenous territories had unleashed a firestorm of criticism both in Brazil and internationally.

In the context of the Temer government's current, brazen assault on the Amazon and the rights of indigenous and traditional communities, this reversal is an important victory, as it suspends the rush order to auction off the region's pristine forests.

A statement from Brazil's Ministry of Mines of Energy (MME) recognized that the decision to suspend Temer's edict was taken after "legitimate protests from society [showing] the necessity to clarify and discuss the condition that led to the dissolution of Renca... From here on, the Ministry will begin an extensive debate with society on alternatives for the region's protection."

Such promises ring hollow, given the MME's history of permitting rampant abuses of human rights and environmental legislation in the interest of industrial development. The fact that President Temer's has shamelessly enacted a wishlist of the most regressive measures sought by the powerful ruralista political block in order to stay in power indicates that his government will stop at nothing to do their bidding.

This week's concession followed a court ruling that temporarily blocked the Renca decree, citing its blatant unconstitutionality. It was the second move by the Temer government to temper criticism of the initial decree, both of which fall short of canceling Renca's dissolution and therefore fail to eliminate this grave threat to the region's forests and communities.

The move demonstrated the Temer government's susceptibility to popular protest, especially that which mobilizes national figures and celebrities, and negative international press coverage that undermines its image abroad.

Mr. Temer's popularity is the lowest in Brazilian history. He has absolutely no mandate to govern, much less issue unilateral and far-reaching decrees that jeopardize the future of the Amazon's forests and peoples. When he seized power from President Dilma Rousseff in 2015, Mr. Temer announced that he would unite the Brazilian people. With his Renca decree it appears that he has managed this task, by uniting the Brazilian people against his shameless agenda.

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