With at least 14,003 plant species alone in the bio-diverse Amazon rainforest, it is a site home to millions of organisms. Researchers discovered 381 new species during a two-year study. Rich with life of animals, plants and indigenous communities, the Amazon has long been a sanctuary of science and tribe culture, untouched by most of the outside world — until now. It may soon be home to hundreds of miners, ready to upheave each inch of the jungle.
The Amazon has long been impenetrable due to the endless restrictions and policies regarding conservation in the area. Over time, economic activity has slowly been developing in the rainforest, slowly conquering areas and changing the habitual surroundings of that area. Brazil’s interim president, Michel Temer, is now willing to sacrifice millions of acres of rainforest, in pursuit of a product that nearly tore nations apart in the 16th century: gold.
In August, Temer issued a decree to allow mining in a 47,000-square-kilometer area, an area larger than the size of Denmark, known as the National Reserve of Copper and Associated Minerals, or Renca. Today, this area consists of mosaic, indigenous and conservation areas, heavily guarded to deter the rapid development affecting other parts of the Amazon.
Environmentalists were quick to call out Brazil and President Temer for jeopardizing years of conservation and protection. They quickly pointed out its violation of an part of the Paris Climate Agreement, decreeing that the Amazonian rainforest should be protected and conserved at all times. Nations such as Norway threatened to withdraw financial support in the upkeep of the Amazon if Brazil falls short of its goals.
Renca was a reserve established in 1984 by Brazil’s military dictatorship to guard the mineral resources from transnational companies and from foreign exploitation, a fear that quickly spread to many nations after the “scramble for Africa.” While Renca is a protected area, illicit mining is not secret and there is an estimated number of 1,000 illegal miners active in the area. This is one of the reasons why Temer had decided to do away with the protected status, in hopes of displacing the illegal miners and having access to the plentiful minerals supposedly in the area.
This action could make Brazil an economic powerhouse, but also perceptible to further exploitation when the decree is officially passed through court. It also endangers the indigenous communities living in the Amazon, untouched and relying on the Amazon as their way of life. Approximately 12% of the population lives in the Amazon and indigenous communities will now be threatened by the development, disease and environmental change that may take place. Cases of murder of indigenous people are not uncommon and are expected to rise if the president plans to open up 30% of the reserve.
The Amazon is a wonder that is engraved in the Brazilian Constitution, as part of their national patrimony. Its future is critical to the future of Brazil, the people living on that land and this planet. Temer is asking Brazilians to forget the history of exploitation and trust that mining in Renca will not impact the environment and indigenous communities, but this does not inspire confidence. Has it come to gold over preservation?