BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazil’s government will revise a decree that opened up a vast mineral reserve in the Amazon rainforest to mining, ministers told journalists on Monday, responding to overwhelming criticism from lawmakers and activists.
Mining and Energy Minister Fernando Coelho Filho said the government would rescind its prior decree and issue a new one that still abolishes the mineral reserve but specifies existing protections for parts of the area that will remain in place.
The changes, as described, will be largely superficial, spelling out protections that would have remained in place anyway, and Coelho Filho largely repeated remarks he made on from Friday defending the move to allow mining.
The revision shows the government scrambling to respond to criticism, including threats of legal action and an effort to overturn the decree in Congress, with a stream of news conferences and statements since Renca was abolished last week.
The National Reserve of Copper and Associates (Renca) banned mining in roughly 17,800 square miles (46,000 square km) of Amazon rainforest, an area larger than Denmark. It was set up in 1984 by the then military government to reserve its mineral resources for future extraction rather to protect the forest.
Coelho Filho dismissed media reports that the decree was first discussed with foreign mining companies before it was announced in Brazil. He said the policy had been discussed well before he told a Canadian mining conference about it last year.
Environment Minister José Sarney Filho, speaking alongside Coelho Filho, said his ministry had not been involved in the initial decree because it was mainly a mining matter.
"We understood that this decree had to do with the mining sector. However, our big worry was that the mining reserve was confused with conservation units (nature reserves)," he said.
According to a 2010 government report, 69 percent of the Renca area in Amapá state, where roughly half the protected territory lies, is subject to other types of protections for conservation units or indigenous areas.