Army helps Canadian mining companies secure deal with Amazon

The Canadian bank Forbes & Manhattan (F&M) encountered difficulties in its activities in the Amazon before the inauguration of President Jair Bolsonaro (PL). Gradually, the group approached members linked to the Armed Forces within the executive, reaching the Vice President of the Republic, Hamilton Mourão (PRTB) – with whom it dealt directly, in exclusive meetings in Brasilia, according to a set of documents obtained by the public agency.

At the meetings, an army brigadier general defended the interests of F&M and its mining companies alongside government leaders. Cláudio Barroso Magno Filho is a veteran of the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti and has been in the business of advising and selling equipment for the armed forces and contractors since joining the reserves in the 2000s. of M&M in Brazil.

For more than a decade, the group has been trying to free the environmental licenses of its mining companies in the Amazon, Belo Sun and Potássio do Brasil, which impact settlers, indigenous people and residents of Amazonas and Pará. Belo Sun is the best-known case, with whom F&M shares some of its top executives – the case of its founder and chief executive, Stan Bharti.

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Belo Sun Mining Agreement

Belo Sun plans to build the largest open-pit gold mine in the world at Volta Grande do Xingu, more than 800 km from Belém (PA). If successful, the Canadian company will install a tailings dam in Senador Porfírio (PA) larger than the one Vale broke in Mariana (MG).

“From the government there is pressure to release the Volta Grande project,” says Elisangela Côrtes, a public defender who coordinates the regional center for human rights in Altamira (PA) and is involved in the case. . “For us, the project is above all unrealizable, whether from a social or environmental point of view”, he specifies.

According to documents obtained by the report, the plans of the mining company linked to the O&Ms progressed as Brigadier General Barroso Magno became involved in the negotiations. The official agenda places him in Belo Sun’s conversations with the Bolsonaro government since 2019.

In September of the same year, he met, on behalf of Belo Sun, with the management of the Geology and Mines Secretariat of the Ministry of Mines and Energy. In May 2021, another meeting with the government, once again with the presence of Barroso Magno on behalf of the Canadian mining company.

The brigadier general does not appear on the lists of directors, managers or any other position on the Belo Sun site, while he is credited by the government as a consultant to the mining company.

Barroso Magno’s last meeting with the government took place on the eve of an agreement between Belo Sun and INCRA, on November 25, 2021. For.

Present in the delegation on behalf of Belo Sun, Barroso Magno met with the chairman of the board of directors of Incra, Geraldo de Melo Filho, and the director of development and consolidation of settlement projects of the agency, Giuseppe Serra Seca Vieira.

The next day, the 26th, it was “signed between the presidency of Incra and the company Belo Sun Mineração Ltda”. a contract for “the concession of use of an area of ​​2,428 hectares, being 1,439 hectares overlapping the proposed settlement of Ressaca and 989 hectares overlapping the Gleba Ituna, located in the municipality of Senador José Porfírio, in the State of Pará”, for “mining exploration purposes”. Even suspect, the agreement has already been published in the Official Journal.

At Agência Pública, the brigadier general said he only works with Potássio do Brasil, another Forbes & Manhattan mining company. “I don’t know of any other project [do grupo canadense]”, said.

One of the elements obtained by the report, however, attributes to Cláudio Barroso Magno Filho the title of “vice-president of government relations” of the Canadian group in Brazil. “I am not a lobbyist to open doors, but to develop projects: I was hired, in a way, because of my management experience,” said the soldier.

Incra argued that the land use concession for Belo Sun “represents approximately 3.5% [da área total] of the colony of Ressaca”, that “there has been no disaffection with the region” – that is to say that the lands have not yet been transferred to the Canadian group – and that, “s there is a need to rehouse the residents, this [sic] will be discussed as part of the environmental permitting process with the state environmental agency. The agency has also publicly expressed its views on the case.

In front of Mourao

Mourão greets Stan Bharti during an audience with Forbes & Manhattan

Image: Romario Cunha/VPR

His career in the army would have ensured the transit of Cláudio Barroso Magno Filho among the influential members of the current government. The military, for example, has known Vice President Mourão for more than 40 years – they both attended Aman (Agulhas Negras Military Academy) at the same time.

“The army is a big family, because we share a lot of ‘things’ [sic] in common, but despite being a contemporary of Gen [general] Mourão, we are not friends,” the brigadier told Pública.

In the second month of government, the military official visited Hamilton Mourão. The agenda of the meeting is not known, but it is known that in June 2019 Barroso Magno took part in the first exclusive meeting of the general manager of F&M with the vice-president of the Republic.

From then on, the soldier met the government either as an adviser or as a consultant to the Canadian group and its mining companies. During the same period, F&M strengthened its relationship with the government.

Mourão and F&M - Romério Cunha/VPR - Romério Cunha/VPR

Mourão (back) talks to Stan Bharti and Brigadier General Barroso Magno Filho

Image: Romario Cunha/VPR

In an institutional video from November 4, 2019, the group’s managing director, Stan Bharti, says: “it’s an interesting poster, we have a company – Potássio do Brasil, Brazil Potash – that we are developing, should go into production soon” .

A week later, amid the BRICS summit meeting in Brasilia, Stan Bharti and Tao Yang – chairman of Chinese construction firm Citic, a partner in mining company Potássio do Brasil – discussed the company’s plans with Vice President Mourão, as shown in the agenda of the Plateau.

Between 2020 and 2021, there have been at least seven other executive meetings solely with representatives of the mining company. During the same period, the federal government created Pró-Minerais Estratégicos, a federal policy that “supports the environmental licensing” of the two mining companies linked to F&M in the Amazon.

One of the documents shows that in 2020, at least one of these companies – Potássio do Brasil – was already anticipating the future classification of its project as “strategic” by the government.

In the material there is a slide with photos of the signing of the contracts between the mining company and the Bolsonaro government, with the presence of Stan Bharti and Hamilton Mourão. “Potassium from Brazil is considered ‘nationally important’ by the ‘federal government,'” the document says. Asked, the vice-presidency of the Republic did not respond until publication.

Strategic pro-mineral policy

Through the Pro-Strategic Minerals Policy, enacted in March 2021, the Bolsonaro government is prepared to “prioritize government efforts” for projects included in this new guideline. Canadian companies Belo Sun and Potássio do Brasil are among the first to be rewarded.

In practice, the new policy allows the government to act “in the necessary articulation to minimize risks and resolve conflicts that may be identified” in projects, by “supporting the granting of environmental licenses” to approved companies – as in the case of F&M mining companies.

The government runs Pró-Minerais Estratégicos through a committee without representatives from the Ministry of Environment or its agencies, or other bodies usually involved in mining environmental licenses – such as Funai, Fundação Palmares, Incra or Iphan .

The inclusion of F&M mining companies also occurred without consultation with the Federal Public Defender’s Office and the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office – both with lawsuits against the Belo Sun and Potássio do Brasil projects in court.

The Department of Mines and Energy said in a statement that “environmental agencies remain fully responsible for conducting and deciding environmental permitting processes for projects qualified under the Pro-Minerals Strategic Policy.”

As for the lack of consultation with the Public Defender’s Office and the MPF, the Ministry states that the approval of projects in the Pró-Minerais Estratégicos “does not require articulation with the aforementioned bodies”.

M&M: “essential” for Brazil, according to Minas e Energia

According to documents obtained through the Access to Information Law (LAI), Potássio do Brasil directors have made pilgrimages to the mines and energy secretariats since the start of the Bolsonaro government. But it wasn’t until after Hamilton Mourão’s first meeting with F&M’s chief executive, in June 2019, that the mining company met with Navy reserve minister and Admiral Bento Albuquerque.

The Minister’s meeting with Potássio do Brasil on September 25, 2019 was not on Bento Albuquerque’s public agenda until Pública contacted him in early February. Via LAI, the ministry confirmed the presence of executives from the mining company at the meeting, in addition to the director general of the National Mining Agency at the time, Victor Bicca.

Until this publication, the ministry had not answered why Potássio do Brasil was not on the minister’s agenda.

A year after the meeting, in 2020, Bento Albuquerque defended F&M’s potash mining project in the Amazon before the National Observatory of Environmental Issues, formed by the National Councils of Justice (CNJ) and the Public Ministry (CNMP ).

The minister defended the project alongside the secretary of geology and mines in the portfolio, Alexandre Vidigal de Oliveira, who had met five times with Potássio do Brasil before this occasion.

According to an article by the ministry itself on the meeting at the National Observatory, a “solution” for the Canadian mining company – environmental licenses, in this case – was “essential” for Brazil.

But the project will affect the indigenous and neighboring populations of Autazes (AM), just over 100 km from Manaus. At the meeting of the Madeira and Amazon rivers, it is an area very close to the Jauary and Paracuhuba indigenous lands, belonging to the Mura people, both not delimited by the Union.

The MPF is filing a public civil action against Potássio do Brasil on the grounds that the Canadian mining company has already drilled the area without proper authorization.

“The environmental license granted by the State of Amazonas is not valid because it relates to the lands of the Mura people; the license is the responsibility of Ibama and the indigenous peoples must be consulted,” said the federal prosecutor who working on the case. , Fernando Soave, in Publica.

Until the conclusion of this report, however, consultation with indigenous peoples remains unfinished and IBAMA has exempted itself from license, as shown by a recent decision of the 1st Federal Court of Justice of Amazonas on the case. . Asked, the Ministry of Mines and Energy claims to understand “that the projects aimed at the production of potassium and phosphate are important for the country”, without giving further details.

*Collaboration: Ananias Oliveira

This report is part of the Special Amazon Without Law, by Agência Pública —

Elmer Hayward

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