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Brazil Declares It Won't Abolish Massive Reserve In The Amazon, After All

Roughly a month after the Brazilian government said it would open a wide swath of Amazon rain forest to mining interests, it has backpedaled on that controversial decision. In a statement Monday, the country's Ministry of Mines and Energy said President Michel Temer would issue a new decree restoring the original conditions of the nature reserve.

Those conditions, established in 1984 under the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil at the time, protected more than 17,000 square miles of rain forest in northern Brazil — a copper-rich expanse larger than Denmark. The area, known as the National Reserve of Copper and Associates (RENCA), is home to several indigenous tribes and what are believed to be significant troves of gold, iron and other minerals.

In its decree last month abolishing that reserve, the Ministry of Mines and Energy argued that opening the area would enable the government to combat illegal mining operations and attract legal investment.

First, though, the decree attracted immediate criticism from activists and opposition politicians as "the biggest attack on the Amazon of the last 50 years."

"Not even the military dictatorship dared so much," Sen. Randolfe Rodrigues said, according to Brazilian newspaper O Globo. "I never imagined the government had such nerve."

Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bündchen‏ also stoked public indignation, accusing the government of "auctioning off our Amazon!"

Despite a revision limiting miners' access to the region, The Guardian reports, a federal Brazilian court suspended the decree shortly afterward, ruling that Temer had exceeded his authority.

The decision piled just one more legal woe on Temer, who earlier this month was slapped with his second set of charges as part of a massive corruption probe. He escaped the first set several months ago when lawmakers blocked the prosecution from proceeding while he remains in office.

Referring to Temer's reversal on the Amazon reserve, Greenpeace Brazil's Marcio Astrini hailed it as a sign that "there is no leader absolutely immune to public pressures."

"It is a victory of society over those who want to destroy and sell our forest," Astrini said. "Renca is just a battle. The war against the Amazon and its different peoples, promoted by Temer and big agribusiness, is still on."

In its statement Monday, the Ministry of Mines and Energy signaled that the decision to reinstitute the reserve wasn't the end of its push, either.

"The country needs to grow and generate jobs, attract investment to the mining sector, and even tap the economic potential of the region."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Colin Dwyer covers breaking news for NPR. He reports on a wide array of subjects — from politics in Latin America and the Middle East, to the latest developments in sports and scientific research.