A Wednesday decree from Brazil's right-wing president Michel Temer abolished a sprawling nature reserve in the Amazon rainforest covering 4.6 million hectares (17,800 square miles), an area larger than Denmark, opening it up to commercial activity.
The ecologically rich and delicate area, known as the National Reserve of Copper and Associates, or Renca, is believed by prospectors to contain enormous reserves of gold, iron, manganese, and other minerals.
The Renca reserve has existed since 1984 with the intention of protection the area from mining activities which would harm ecological diversity, wildlife, as well as indigenous communities.
Mining groups petitioned the unelected Temer government to lift the protections several months ago in March. Pedro Garcia, a mining lawyer, told O Globo newspaper that nearly “all major mining companies in the world” are interested in exploiting the region, especially those from the United States, Canada, Australia, and South Africa.
Temer, and the Mining and Energy ministry, have obliged the mining industry, defending the move as necessary to stimulate the economy.
“The objective of the measure is to attract new investments, generating wealth for the country and employment and income for the society, always based on the precepts of sustainability,” a statement by the ministry said.
Opposition Senator Randolfe Rodrigues called the decision the “biggest attack on the Amazon of the last 50 years,” according to O Globo newspaper.
Many mining companies have applied in recent years to prospect the region, but the applications have been invalidated by the current restrictions. The removal of these will allow companies to move challenge their cancelled applications in court.
According to the decree, about two-thirds of the area still will be subject to other protections and conversation controls, particularly indigenous areas where mining is completely prohibite