RIO DE JANEIRO – The Brazilian government will propose legalizing oil and gas exploration as well as hydroelectric dam construction on indigenous land, a report said Saturday, citing a draft of a bill to be sent to Congress.
Opening up protected native territory was a key campaign pledge for President Jair Bolsonaro, but activists blame economic activity for an uptick in violence and increased deforestation.
The Amazon rainforest, where many of Brazil’s indigenous tribes live, is rich in minerals including gold, copper, tantalum, iron ore, nickel and manganese.
The draft bill also allows indigenous people to “conduct economic activities” on their land, including agriculture, raising livestock and tourism, O Globo said.
While affected communities will be consulted on development projects, they would not have the power to veto them, it added. They would, however, receive financial compensation.
A government spokesman said the proposal “is still being studied and has not been finalized.”
It comes after Mines and Energy Minister Bento Albuquerque met with more than a dozen European diplomats to defend the government’s plans for mining in indigenous territories that have been criticized in Brazil and abroad.
Albuquerque told the meeting, which included representatives from France and Germany, that leaders of many indigenous communities had called on the government to allow mining on their land, according to a statement posted on the ministry’s website Friday.
However, many indigenous leaders have been vocal in their opposition to the government’s plans.
Prominent tribal chiefs, including Raoni Metuktire, have toured Europe to defend their territories from deforestation and development.
Bolsonaro has long railed against the protected indigenous areas in the Amazon, which he says are a threat to the country’s sovereignty.
He claims other countries are encouraging the expansion of protected areas in a bid to take over Brazilian land.
Bolsonaro faced a firestorm of criticism last year after blazes ravaged swaths of the Amazon.
The number of fires in the rainforest in northern Brazil rose 30 percent to 89,178 in 2019, compared with the previous year, the latest official data show.