London — Mining on Brazil's indigenous lands is unlikely to occur in the near future, despite the Brazilian government's publication last week of a law bill proposing the opening up and industrial exploitation of these lands, according to executives of Brazilian mining institute Ibram.
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"A great deal of discussion is still to take place on the law bill, not least because it also covers exploitation of oil and gas as well as minerals," Ibram President Flavio Penido said in a press conference in Brasilia. "Nothing has yet been decided yet on the indian lands."
Brazil has a patchwork of some 688 indigenous territories that cover about 13% of the country, or an area more than twice the size of California.
The lands, mostly in the Amazon region, are apparently rich in minerals including gold, iron ore, copper, tin, nickel, niobium, diamonds and rare earths, as well as oil.
The new bill aims to regulate mining on indigenous reservations for the first time, which could possibly decrease conflicts between indigenous peoples and the wildcat miners who have illegally taken gold, cassiterite -- the raw material for tin production -- and diamonds from these lands for decades. However, it needs to be approved by Brazil's congress before it can become law. Similar law bills considered in 1996 and 2012 failed to gain congress' support.
Despite the supposed riches, indigenous lands in Amazonia and elsewhere in Brazil cannot be viewed as "El Dorado" because the absence of geological mapping in these areas means it is unclear what level of mineral wealth they actually contain, making any kind of decision by miners on the subject difficult, said Penido, supported in his views by Ibram director Wilson Nelio Brumer, a former Vale CEO.
Lack of infrastructure, indigenous tribal rights and expected widespread international opposition by environmentalists are other factors that have been raised as complicating the development of commercial mining in these areas.
Brazil has the world's biggest reserves of niobium, Ibram said. It is in second place in terms of iron, manganese and magnesite, third in nickel and fourth in bauxite, institute statistics published Wednesday showed.