Studies seen as key factor for exploration on Brazil's indigenous lands

Bnamericas Published: Tuesday, January 14, 2020
Studies seen as key factor for exploration on Brazil's indigenous lands

The ambitious and controversial plan of the Brazilian government to allow major economic exploitation of indigenous lands could lead to the creation of a new frontier in terms of mining and oil & gas exploration. 

The lands in question comprise 12% of Brazil's territory and the government's plan is strongly opposed by NGOs. 

To get an expert's view on the issue, BNamericas spoke to John Forman, who is a geologist and former director of Brazilian oil sector regulator ANP and  former head of state-run nuclear company INB.

BNamericas: The government defends the liberation of indigenous lands for exploration alleging that there's enormous economic potential in the areas. How big is the potential really?

Forman: We can’t generalize. As it's a very large area, there are regions that actually have potential and others that have less.

This will all depend on a lot of evaluation. Companies interested in exploring these regions will have to invest in many studies to measure the viability of projects in these areas. The truth is that the geology of the areas is not yet known.

BNamericas: The government says it's important to formalize exploration in these regions to combat the illegal mining that already exists. Do you agree with this?

Forman: In fact, in the so-called indigenous reserves not even the federal police is currently able to enter, so the Indians are exposed to exploiters who act illegally. Once authorizing activities in this region in a formal way, the police would have more access, yes.

BNamericas: Environmental groups have criticized the government over this project, saying it threatens the rights of indigenous people and also the preservation of nature. What do you think?

Forman: NGOs always speak out through lawyers, spokespeople, but we never hear from the real stakeholders, the indigenous communities directly, in order to know what they think about the issue.

Looking in perspective, the US developed the concept of indigenous reserves, and in the US when they realize that a particular area is economically interesting, it changes its location. 

In Brazil the indigenous reserves are real human zoos, where the Indians are isolated without any assistance.

Some international NGOs are interested in perpetuating this situation to raise funds from other countries, with the excuse that it's used to maintain indigenous culture in Brazil. 

Now is the time to reevaluate what reservation land is, as there's a lot of hypocrisy involved in this matter. If we're really seeking to address this issue, we need to admit that the entire Brazil would be indigenous land, because the Indians were here first.

We need to hold a serious discussion about what really is indigenous land to create viable economic mechanisms to take care of indigenous people and indigenous culture.

BNamericas: Could opening indigenous lands to mining and oil and gas, among others, bring in new players to Brazil in these sectors?

Forman: This is a question that requires a more elaborate answer. It will depend on economic viability, but looking at the whole issue, from the mining part for example, Brazil doesn't have a mining culture.

Historically Brazil has a large mining company that is Vale. In the 1990s, the administration of FHC [Fernando Henrique Cardoso] opened mineral exploration to other participants, but this opening was basically only for Brazilian companies.

As the years went on the result was disastrous for Brazil because we have not developed quality mining activity, what we have here is a digging culture. Organized mining does not exist in a major way and this needs to change.

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