Renca: Attacks From the Brazilian Government Put Reserve At Risk

by Vera Ceccarello and Tatiana Massaro

“You do not know me and you’ve never seen me. You live in a distant land.”

(Davi Kopenawa, Yanomamishaman)

During the final months of 2017, the Amazon has once again taken center stage of debates in the media and in civil society. The trigger was a decree from the interim government of Michel Temer that would allow the private initiative to explore an area of 46 thousand square kilometers known as Renca (National Reserve of Copper and Associates) – First Decree 9.147, August 28, 2017 [i][1]. The urgent character of the decree and the lack of dialogue with the population spawned massive controversies among government, environmentalists, the indigenous population and people worried about preserving the Amazon forest. Faced with several outrage demonstrations, the Brazilian government backtracked and suspended the decree on September 2018 during 120 days from this date (Second Decree 9.159, from September 26, 2017, revoking the first one) [ii][2].


Caption: Fig. 1. Part of RENCA (National Reserve of Copper and Associates)

Source: IPAM. (October 25, 2016). Retrieved January 27, 2018  (iii)[3].

The issue, therefore, is not fully shelved. The first decree extinguishing Renca was published on August 28 (Decree 9.147, from August 28, 2017) [i], and it contained four articles without specifics on nature, the extent or any details of the possible exploration. Then another one was issued in order to explain in-depth the content of the changes. The Temer government decree 9.147 [i] guarantees the conservation of preserved areas, both indigenous and forest ones. However, it is well known that inspecting such large areas of preservation and in such distant places is extremely complex. The collapse of the Mariana dam, in the countryside of Minas Gerais, is emblematic. In 2015, despite being monitored, the dam burst and led to one of the biggest environmental disasters in the world  [iv][4]. The exploration of the Carajás iron mine in the 1990s is also another example of an event that unleashed a serious and uncontrolled situation. Furthermore, the construction of the Belo Monte hydroelectric power plant on the Xingu River is a great engineering project whose human and environmental impacts are immense and still subject to criticism. The environmental impacts are still senses by the indigenous people, by the fishermen, by the native people that was removed from their lands [v][5] [vi][6] [vii][7].


Caption: Fig. 2. Mariana dam: an biggest environmental disaster in Brazil.

Source: Folha de São Paulo. Retrieved January 28, 2018 (viii)[8].

The outcomes of predatory interference in the Amazon are a serious and long-standing issue. In the 1990s the massacre of Haixmu by illegal miners led to the death of 16 Yanomamis and has contaminated ever since over 92% of this indigenous population, which has also been affected by diseases and several forms of violence  [ix][9] [x][10]. Illegal mining is a recurring practice in the Amazon. It is estimated that 5,000 illegal miners and 28 clandestine airstrips are currently operating in protected areas [x]. Some people argue that private companies would allow exploitation to be within the law. On the other side, the environmental risks must be considered, since the objectives of a private enterprise can suppress environmental and social responsibilities, especially in regions with no or low supervision. As an example, investigations of the Federal Police between 2012 and 2015 showed that the gold explored in Yanomami lands arrives directly at Avenida Paulista, in the state of São Paulo, and are financed by those who profit from this type of activity [x].

The Renca’s operating decree creates concern and civil mobilization mainly among the indigenous people, environmentalists, NGO’s, artists and celebrities mobilized against the transformation of environmental reserve in exploration area [xi][11] [xii][12] [xiii][13]. Unlike what has been widely publicized, Renca is neither an indigenous nor an environmental reserve, although both are interwoven with its spatial delimitations. Located between the states of Pará and Amapá, in the northern region of Brazil, Renca was created in the 1980s, in the last years of the military dictatorship under President João Figueiredo, to make sure the domination of the region, the exploration of minerals and the possible studies on mining remained under the hands of the Brazilian state [xiv][14]. In an area the size of Denmark, the Mineral Resources Research Company (CPRM) would have exclusivity in exploration and geological research. Despite the wide openness to foreign capital during the military dictatorship, Renca clearly had a nationalist character.


Caption: Fig. 3. Comparison between the size of RENCA with Switzerland, Belgium and NYC and Philly.

Source: Biblioteca Pleyades. (August 25, 2017). Retrieved January 29, 2018. [xv][15]

In the current Brazilian political scene, Temer government’s broad wave to privatize Amazonia has increased exponentially the number of deaths in the region and only in the last year, there were several attacks on the indigenous population by prospectors, such as the ones that occurred in September 2017 in the Javari Valley. [xvi][16]. Only this year, there were several attacks on the indigenous population by prospectors, such as the ones that occurred in September in the Javari Valley. The tension in Amazon has grown steadily, in a similar fashion to the situation in 2005 when missionary Dorothy Stang was murdered in land conflicts. In both cases people in positions opposed to the government suffered life-threatening, seeing the tension increasing in the environment in which they live. While the prospectors and landowners are continuously strengthened by the new government measures, the local indigenous populations are weakened and killed. The lands where the indigenous people are living for centuries are threatened by the decisions of the government Michel Temer that did not consider the rights of the native people and also goes against the tendency of the developed countries in preserved the environmental for the next generations.

In addition to the repeal of the decree, the stance of the current government seems to point to an increasingly evident loosening of environmental legislation and openness to foreign capital [xvii][17].. The context of the measures taken by Michel Temer is possibly related to the pressure from the ruralists, the group of landlords and miners that are now demanding something in return to their support to actions the president took in order to remain in charge [xviii][18] [xix][19] [xx] [20]. The current attacks against the Amazon are serious and, in the face of what has happened at the end of the year, there seems to be no end in sight [xxi][21].

The magnitude of the Amazon is its strength, but also its weakness. The people who inhabit it and all who see Amazon as essential to both present and future do not cease their struggle, continuing to believe and act in face of the onslaughts. Pressuring the Temer government to ensure the protection of the Amazon is the role of Brazilian civil society. Even though the international community has offered support at the time of the decrees, this support should be extended until the attacks on the Amazon finally cease and the forest stops being at the mercy of political transactions. The Amazon is above decrees, governments, borders and bargaining. It is of interest to everyone and must be defended by everyone in Brazil and in the world.

DSC_0175Tatiana Massaro has a degree in Social Sciences from UNESP (São Paulo State University) and a Master’s degree in Social Anthropology from UFSCar (Federal University of São Carlos). She collaborated with the Centers for Natural Resources and Development (CNRD) and wrote the book “Sob perspectiva: relações sociais no pensamento de Eduardo Viveiros de Castro”.

intelectual sustentávelVera Ceccarello has a degree in Social Sciences from UNESP (São Paulo State University) and a Master´s degree in Sociology from Unicamp (State University of Campinas). She was a Visiting Scholar at Columbia University in 2015 and is the author of the book “Filho de ninguém: dualismo e bastardia no romance Dois irmãos” de Milton Hatoum”.

[1] [i] Brazil. Decre 9.147, August 28, 2017. Retrieved January 27, 2018.

[2] [ii] Brazil. Decre 9.159, September 26, 2017. Retrieved January 27, 2018.

[3] [iii] IPAM. (October 25, 2016). Retrieved January 27, 2018.

[4] [iv] The Guardian.  (October 15, 2016).   Retrieved January 27, 2018.

[5] [v] The Economist. (May 4, 2013). Retrieved January 28, 2018.

[6] [vi] The Guardian. (April 18, 2012). Retrieved 28, 2018).

[7] [vii] Forbes. (March 07, 2014). Retrieved January 28, 2018).

[8] [viii] Folha de São Paulo. Retrieved January 28, 2018.

[9] [ix] Survival Brazil. (August 13, 2013). Retrieved January 28, 2018.

[10] [x]  Instituto SocioAmbiental. (March 23, 2016). Retrieved January 28, 2018.

[11] [xi] Greenpeace. (August 27, 2017). Retrieved January 28, 2018.

[12] [xii] El país. (August 24, 2017). Retrieved January 28, 2018.

[13] [xiii] WWF. (December 13, 2017). Retrieved January 28, 2018).

[14] [xiv] BBC. (August 25, 2017). Retrieved January 28, 2018.

[15]  [xv] Biblioteca Pleyades. (August 25, 2017). Retrieved January 29, 2018.

[16] [xvi] The Guardian. (September 12, 2017). Retrieved January 28, 2018).

[17] [xvii]  Instituto SocioAmbiental. (November 01, 2017). Retrieved January 28, 2018.

[18] [xviii] O Globo. (July 23, 2017). Retrieved January 28, 2018.

[19] [xix] Valor Econômico. (August 08, 2017). Retrieved January 28, 2018.

[20] [xx] Mongabay. (August 24, 2017). Retrieved January 28, 2018.

[21] [xxi] HuffPost Brasil. (August 29, 2017). Retrieved January 28, 2018.