Brazil's government issued an order Aug. 23 abolishing a vast national reserve in the Amazon in order to open up the area to mineral exploitation. The National Reserve of Copper and Associated (RENCA), covering 46,000 square kilometers (17,800 square miles, an area larger than Denmark), straddles the northern states of Amapa and Pará, and is thought to be rich in gold, iron, manganese and other minerals. It was created in 1984 to protect the rich natural resources of zone. In announcing the dissolution of the RENCA, the Mines and Energy Ministry said the objective of the measure is "to attract new investments, generating wealth for the country and employment and income for society, always based on the precepts of sustainability." But opposition Senator Randolfe Rodrigues denounced the move as "the biggest attack on the Amazon of the last 50 years."
Dissolution of the RENCA is said to affect only some 30% of its territory, as it overlaps with other protected areas and indigenous reserves. Currently, seven conservation units are present within the RENCA, three of which are fully protected (Jari Ecological Station, Tumucumaque Mountains National Park and Maicuru Biological Reserve), and four open for "sustainable use" (Rio Cajari Extractive Reserve, Iratapuru River Sustainable Development Reserve, Amapá State Forest and Paru State Forest). There are also two indigenous territories that overlap with the RENCA, Rio Paru d'Este and Waiãpi. But here the federal government maintains subsoil rights, leaving their fate unclear.
Rodrigues, of the left-opposition Rede party led by former presidential candidate and environment minister Marina Silva, has proposed a measure in the Senate to block the decree. President Michel Temer responded by issuing a statement claiming that opening the reserve would paradoxically protect it, by bringing mining under government regulation: "RENCA is not a paradise, as some would wrongly like to make it appear. Today, unfortunately, the territories of the original RENCA are subject to the degradation caused by illegal gold miners, which besides plundering national wealth, are destroying nature and polluting waterways with mercury." (BBC News, O Globo, EBC, Reuters, Mining.com)