Brazil’s interim president, Michel Temer, is willing to sacrifice millions of acres of rain forest in pursuit of a 16th-century boondoggle: fortunes of gold in the Amazon.
In August, Mr. Temer signed a decree to open a rain forest reserve — an area larger than Denmark — to commercial mining, threatening decades of progress on environmental protection and indigenous rights in the Amazon. The approximately 17,800-square-mile National Reserve of Copper and Associates, or Renca, which straddles the northern states of Pará and Amapá, was created by Brazil’s military dictatorship in 1984 to guard mineral resources from foreign exploitation as the country staggered toward democracy.
Today the reserve is a patchwork of conservation areas and indigenous lands. Its protected status has deterred the runaway development rampant elsewhere in the Amazon that has squelched biodiversity, destroyed indigenous communities and reduced millions of acres of rain forest to pastureland.
During Brazil’s last gold rush, in the 1980s, thousands of Yanomami people lost their land — and their lives — to the government-sponsored invasion of “garimpeiros” (prospectors) who exposed tribes to disease, alcohol, drugs and prostitution. The federal government is now investigating the suspected slaughter of more than 10 members of an isolated tribe on the border with Perú by miners who boasted at a bar of cutting up the dead, including women and children, and disposing of their remains in the river.
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