A retired Brazilian Army officer who recently advised Canadian miner Belo Sun (TSX: BSX) about its plans to mine gold in the Amazon, will head the country’s Indigenous Rights Agency (Funai) aiming at using his experience in the sector to deal with hundreds of impending clashes between miners and locals.
Native descendant General Franklimberg Ribeiro de Freitas had run Funai until April 2018, but was let go by the previous government over allegations that he was too supportive to indigenous tribes’ land claims.
Freitas took part on several operations in the Amazon forest aimed at reducing deforestation by evicting illegal miners and loggers from the area, an ecosystem with worldwide ecological significance.
His return to Funai is seen by many as positive, as the agency has lost funding and authority on land issues now settled by the Ministry of Agriculture.
“Our indigenous must be strengthened and our actions must have as sole objective improving the conditions and support we give native peoples,” Freitas said in a statement.
While Brazil’s new right-wing President and former army captain, Jair Bolsonaro, hasn’t yet provided specifics of his view for the mining sector, he has not shown sympathy towards indigenous people, who make up less than 1% of the country’s population and live on reservation lands that cover 12% of its territory.
Some of Bolsonaro’s past statements are considered rather alarming, particularly by environmental experts and activists. He has said, for instance, he may withdraw from the Paris climate accord if it means sacrificing sovereignty over the Amazon.
Asked about the indigenous reserves in the area, he has declared he won’t add “even a centimetre” to them.
Climate scientists say Bolsonaro’s intention to open the Amazon for greater development could make it impossible for Latin America’s largest nation to meet its reduced emissions targets in the coming years.
Other issues conservationists are worried about include Bolsonaro’s criticism of the country’s environmental agencies for blocking or taking too long to approve mining and energy projects. He has promised to reduce the wait time to license small hydroelectric plants to a maximum three months, rather than the decade it can sometimes take.
Freitas’ job won’t be an easy one, particularly considering that it’s estimated there are over 400 brewing disputes involving mining companies, quilombos (communities made up of the ancestors of runaway slaves) and other indigenous peoples, according to Latentes, a journalistic project to map conflict areas in Brazil.
The investigative reporters found that from the 428 potential conflicts detected in the country, 245 are found in reserves, while 183 involve traditional bondservant communities, as Brazil was the West’s last nation to abolish slavery.
The mapping crosses data from Funai, the national indigenous affairs agency, the Palmares Foundation, which regulates quilombos and data from active mining concession contracts signed by the newly reformed National Mining Agency.
Companies operating and exploring in Brazil are mainly after iron ore (the country is the world’s top producer or the steel-making ingredient) and gold, though the nation also holds large reserves of bauxite, manganese and potash. It’s also Latin America’s No. 1 oil producer.