After Rainforest Victory for Brazil’s Environmentalists, a Mining Battle Looms – by R.T. Watson (Bloomberg News – June 21, 2017)

Opponents of unbridled development of Brazil’s Amazon region scored a victory this week when environmentalists fronted by supermodel Gisele Bundchen persuaded President Michel Temer to veto legislation that would have removed protections on more than 1 million acres. A battle over Amazon land about 300 times that size may be looming.

The mining ministry has proposed legislation that would end a nearly 40-year ban on foreign-owned mining companies operating on land near the roughly 16,000-kilometer (10,000-mile) border. The zone, which extends about 150 kilometers inland, accounts for 27 percent of Brazil’s national territory, according to the mining ministry.

Because most of Brazil’s western border also incorporates parts of the world’s largest rainforest, the amount of Amazon biome in the border zone would total more than 1.7 million square kilometers, an area about the size of Alaska, or more than twice the size of Texas.

The legislation is expected to be presented to Brazil’s Congress by the end of this year. The proposal is another indication of the zeal among some policymakers to further exploit the country’s vast natural resources and boost economic activity in a time of recession. Mining Minister Fernando Coelho Filho spoke about the idea briefly in January at the World Economic Forum in Davos, saying the measure should help attract foreign investment.

Opening the borders to foreign companies would constitute a shift in Brazil’s national-security strategy. Protecting the border zone, a holdover from the military government of the 1960s through the ’80s, came in conjunction with official efforts to establish a greater foothold in the sparsely populated regions rich in natural resources.

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