An exclusive analysis of data from the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI) and the National Mining Agency (ANM) conducted by Agência Pública has exposed the names of individuals and companies requesting authorization to mine on indigenous territories in the brazilian Amazon. Miners have their eyes on protected reserves that have been officially demarcated for 15 years and are inhabited by isolated indigenous peoples. The report also reveals an explosion in requests since 2019: applications to mine on indigenous lands in the Amazon have increased by 91% under the Bolsonaro administration.
Mining in indigenous territories is currently prohibited under Brazil’s Federal Constitution of 1988 and goes against the will of many indigenous peoples. Indigenous territories are protected by law and considered to play a major role in preserving the Amazon rainforest. Still, president Jair Bolsonaro has publicly announced on multiple occasions that Brazil’s indigenous territories should be opened for mining and other resource exploitation, justifying such a move as a boost for the economy. In february 2020, he went as far as proposing a bill that would regulate the activity – which still hasn’t been voted. This journalistic project managed to show the real implications of the president’s discourses and policies on the environment and the local population as well as who would benefit from such a move. This piece has been republished by 34 news websites, in portuguese, spanish and english, being featured in important national and international outlets such as El País Brasil, Mongabay (US) and OjoPúblico (Peru). It has also been referred to in several publications, such as the World Resources Institute’s report Undermining Rights – Indigenous Lands and Mining in the Amazon. This investigation was awarded the second place of the Data Journalism Contest “All Eyes on the Amazon”, promoted by a coalition of organisations which includes Hivos and Greenpeace.
We used the National Mining Agency (ANM) mining requests database and cross-checked the data with the FUNAI Indigenous Land Mapping (TIs) to identify areas where the requests overlapped with indigenous territories. Private individuals and companies must request authorization through the ANM before being allowed to engage in exploration of minerals or any other subsoil resources in Brazil. We also made use of the Internal Revenue Service’s CNPJ [an identification number issued to brazilian companies] and company partners database, supported by Google searches for addresses and news articles on these companies. We used free data analysis softwares such as Libreoffice, Open Refine, QGIS and graphic design programs such as Illustrator and Photoshop to create the visualization pieces.
What was the hardest part of this project?
The databases we used for our analysis came from different government agencies and had distinct formats. The data from the National Mining Agency did not clearly specify the names of the people responsible for the mining requests, so we had to examine lists of business ID numbers (CNPJ) and partners of companies and make decisions among several duplicate data or with incomplete information. Federal agencies do not answer questions or requests for more information, even though it comes to public information.
What can others learn from this project?
This journalistic investigation sets an example of how to arrive at new information by crossing different databases, and how it can lead to the accountability of public authorities and big businessmen on matters of social and environmental impacts. It is also a form of independent reporting that can be carried out by small outlets in order to obtain information – even when the public authorities refuse to offer them.