The Amazon rainforest is one of the most contested spaces for mining in the world, and the impacts of both legal and illegal operations can be devastating for the environment and the indigenous groups that call it home.
Covering over two-million square miles, containing nearly 400-billion trees, and home to around 20-million indigenous people, the Amazon rainforest is one of the world’s most unique areas of biological diversity and human life. The region is also home to considerable mineral reserves, notably copper and gold, making it an attractive prospect for eager mining companies.
Historically, the governments of South America have been careful to balance the demands of the mining industry with the needs of indigenous people and local flora and fauna, but the political climate is shifting. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is infamously supportive of mining and industrial expansion into the rainforest. The president’s provocative language has encouraged many of the country’s illegal miners to expand and intensify their operations, believing his election and subsequent rhetoric to have effectively legitimised a number of their operations; In September this year, 250 illegal miners blockaded a road, demanding a government official formally recognise their mines.
Human Rights Watch notes that many of the more extreme consequences of these social conflicts – notably violence and killings – are not adequately investigated by the Brazilian Government. The group notes that the Pastoral Land Commission in Brazil has recorded over 230 cases of fatal attacks between 2009 and 2019, involving more than 300 victims, but only nine of these incidents have led to trials.”
Christian Poirier, programme director of non-profit Amazon Watch, which works to protect the environment and people of the Amazon basin tells GlobalData: “From day one, [Brazilian President] Jair Bolsonaro has dismantled the social and environmental protections safeguards that keep the Amazon standing, from attacking the rights of indigenous peoples to their ancestral territories to dismantling [the] environmental policy, environmental safeguards, and even the very institutions that were established to uphold environmental law.
“These mining projects cause enormous environmental disruption and social impacts where they are established, in part because environmental governance is extremely lax and companies can get away with murder as it were.”