Mining on Indigenous Lands with Names, Last names and ID numbers
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An investigation reveals an explosion of processes since 2019 and lists the beneficiaries with the most mining requests related to Indigenous Lands. They are politicians, mining cooperatives and even an artist from Sao Paulo.

First Place of the Data Journalism Contest “All Eyes on the Amazon”

By Anna Beatriz Anjos, Bruno Fonseca, Ciro Barros, José Cícero da Silva, Rafael Oliveira and Thiago Domenici

Originally published in Portuguese in

Jair Bolsonaro’s intention to open up Brazilian Indigenous lands for exploration of the subsoil and water resources is nothing new. Since taking office, the president has made clear, at different times, his opinion on the matter.

One of the justifications presented is that Indigenous lands must be economically exploited. But, in addition to contradicting the Constitution of 1988, according to an interview with the Agencia Pública, the Deputy Attorney General of the Republic, Antônio Carlos Bigonha, the content of PL 191/2020 has also been questioned by Indigenous entities, socio-environmental organizations and opinion polls. Rodrigo Maia, president of the Chamber of Deputies, assured on Wednesday (18) that he will not place the project on the Chamber’s agenda.

But, after all, who are the potential beneficiaries of mining on Indigenous Lands (TI is the Portuguese acronym)?

An unprecedented investigation of Pública, based on data from FUNAI and the National Mining Agency (ANM is the Portuguese acronym) not only includes the name, surname and identification number of individuals and legal entities with the most mining applications related to Indigenous Lands (TI), but it also reveals an increase in mining research processes in these areas in 2019, reversing the downward trend of recent years.

Mining Processes in Indigenous Lands of the Amazon Region

The data indicates that mining exploration processes in TIs in the Amazon Region have increased by 91% since the start of the Bolsonaro government. This was the first time since 2013 that requests have increased. Before this, they had declined year after year.

Among the potential beneficiaries of the executive’s measure are great political figures from the Amazon region, gold mining cooperatives with partners involved in lawsuits on environmental issues, a global mining giant and even a Sao Paulo painter.

The data listed by Pública present two scenarios. The first one is TI requests submitted in the 2011-2020 period and the second one is related to requests registered during the Bolsonaro government (2019-2020).

Sawré Muybu of the Munduruku, the Most Affected Land of this Decade

It is in the state of Pará that most of the TI mining processes that advanced in Bolsonaro’s first year are located. The Indigenous land of the Kayapó faced the highest number of applications for its lands in that period. Then there is Sawré Muybu, owned by the Munduruku, also in the state of Pará.

Sawré Muybu is precisely the Indigenous territory most affected by mining processes in the decade. More than 14% of all requests for access to Indigenous areas in the Amazon region affect this territory. 97 processes were filed, mainly aimed at gold, copper and diamond mines and, to a lesser extent, to the extraction of cassiterite and gravel.

After the state of Pará, the states of Mato Grosso and Roraima are the ones that most concentrated applications for access to Indigenous group lands in the first year of the Bolsonaro government.

Evolution of Research and Mining Processes in the Amazon Region

The ANM registered mining processes, and even granted mining titles, even in approved TIs. These have already gone through all the regularization stages with the federal government, including presidential approval. One of the territories potentially affected by mining titles is that of the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau, in Rondonia, whose approval process was completed in 2006. Nine groups live in the territory, including uncontacted Indigenous groups.

In 2013, for example, Cooperativa Minera de los Garimpeiros de Ariquemes (Mining Cooperative of Miners of Ariquemes) (COOMIGA is the Portuguese acronym) obtained a gold mining title that affects part of the Indigenous territory of the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau. The cooperative is the third largest tin producer in the country, according to the ANM’s 2018 Minerals Yearbook. In 2016, the Rondonia Estanifera Cooperative obtained a title for a cassiterite mine in an area that includes parts of the Uru-eu-wau-wau territory. Cassiterite is the main tin ore used to produce metal alloys. And in Rondonia, in the municipality of Ariquemes, there is the largest open pit cassiterite mine in the world.

In the last ten years, the ANM registered 656 mining processes that requested entering territories where Indigenous groups live.

In addition to the Munduruku, in Pará, the mining processes in this decade were concentrated in the lands of the Kaxuyana and Kayapó, both in Pará, and the Kanomami, in Roraima and Amazonas states.

A Cooperative has 26 TI Requests and Some Members have Complaints Filed with the MPF

The Miners Cooperative of the Amazon Region (COOGAM, for its acronym in Portuguese) ranks third in the list of requests for mining exploration on Indigenous lands in the period analyzed (2011-2020). Founded in the 1990s, it brings together more than a hundred miners and operates in the states of Rondonia, Amazonas state and Pará, in mining carried out using ferries.

26 mining applications were found corresponding to nine Indigenous group lands in the Legal Amazon region. In addition to the formal requests presented to the ANM, some officials linked to the organization face charges in the Federal Court for illegal mineral exploration on Indigenous group lands. This is the case, for example, of the current president of the cooperative, Cacildo Jacoby, who was reported by the Federal Prosecutor’s Office (MPF is the Portuguese acronym) for conspiracy, usurpation of Union assets and contamination and extraction of minerals without authorization from the competent body.

The demand filed at MPF was supported by Operation Eldorado, initiated by the Federal Police (PF) in November, 2012. The objective of the operation, according to the Federal Police (PF), was to dismantle a “criminal organization dedicated to the illegal extraction of gold” in the Indigenous group lands of the Kayabi and Munduruku and other illegal gold mines in the Teles Pires riverbed. In addition to Jacoby, the founder of COOGAM, Geomário Leitão Sena, is also charged with the same charges in the criminal complaint that is being processed before the Federal Court of Mato Grosso.

The PF investigation determined that the gold illegally extracted from the Teles Pires riverbed was delivered to property securities distribution companies (DTVM is the Portuguese acronym) and, after hiding its origin, gold was sold as a financial asset to Sao Paulo companies. Only one of the DTVM denounced by the PF sold around R$ 150 million. After requesting its opinion, COOGAM did not reply to Pública questions sent by email, until the report was closed.

Former Governor and Deputy of the State of Amazonas Filed Six TI Requests

Two political figures of the state of Amazonas are among the partners of the third company that registered the most requests for mining exploration on Indigenous group lands, in the first year of the Bolsonaro government.

SMD Recursos Naturais Ltda., founded in 2012 and based in Sao Paulo, has among its members the former governor of the state of Amazonas, Armando Mendes, and his former vice president and former finance secretary, Samuel Assayag Hanan. Hanan has a long history linked to mining. Among other professional positions, we can mention that he was president of Paranapanema S.A., a giant copper producer in Brazil. He worked in British Petroleum’s copper mining metallurgical sector. He was the industrial and commercial director of Companhia Estanífera do Brasil (CESBRA) and was part of the Superior Council of Mines of the Ministry of Mines and Energy.

The SMD requests were for tin research and focused on the TIs of the Yanomami, in Roraima, and the Waimiri-Atroari, between this state and the Amazonas state.

As governor, the Amazonian made decisions that favored others interested in mining exploration on Indigenous group lands. In December of 2017, the former governor renewed the Environmental Operation Licenses (LOA) held by COOGAM —another legal entity that appears in the Públicainvestigation—, in addition to granting another gold exploration license to the organization. The LOAs, issued by the environmental agency of the Amazonas state, the Amazonas Environmental Protection Institute (IPAAM is the Portuguese acronym), authorized COOGAM to explore for gold in about 87 thousand hectares in the Madeira riverbed. Days after the concession, the Federal Prosecutor’s Office (MPF is the Portuguese acronym) filed a lawsuit against IPAAM in which it requested the suspension of one of the licenses. According to the MPF, the license was granted “without compliance with the prerequisite of adequate environmental studies and despite the fact that the activity involved Indigenous group lands and federal conservation units and impacted the federally owned watercourse in more than one state of the Federation.”

Licenses were granted prior to completion of a study by the State Council of Environmental Issues of the Amazonas State (CEMAAM is the Portuguese acronym) on mercury waste in the Madeira River. They were preliminarily suspended by the Federal Court days after the concession. When the Court suspended these licenses, Judge María Elisa Andrade pointed out a series of breaches of environmental conditions related to operating licenses. “The documentary compilation of the lawsuits shows the systematic breach of the conditions of the environmental license, due to causing damages that endanger the Madeira River, as well as causing risks to human health, biodiversity and the maintenance of the Amazon region ecosystem,” the magistrate wrote in her decision. The case is pending before the Federal Court of the state of Amazonas.

Cooperative with an interest in TI has two partners with lawsuits for environmental issues

The Mine Workers and Miners Cooperative of Marupá (COOPERMIGAMA is the Portuguese acronym), which submitted four TI requests in 2019, is another one that has partners involved in legal demands related to environmental issues.

In 2015, Alex Renato Queiroz Carvalho, one of the 12 members of the Cooperative, was investigated by the Civil Police of the state of Pará for his participation in fraud in the acquisition of forest credits with the State Secretariat for Environment and Sustainability (SEMAS is the Portuguese acronym) of the state. In the investigation, Queiroz Carvalho is described as one of the “intermediaries who buy lumber, has access to loans and companies.”

According to the investigation, the fraud occurred in February 2015 and involved Madeireira Sagrada Familia, from Pacaja, Pará, at that time owned by the then secretary of Economic Development of the municipality, João Paulo Chopek.

Queiroz Carvalho was arrested in July 2015 for alleged participation in illegal shipments of lumber, the sale of shell companies, forest product credit sales, environmental crimes and money laundering. He was released by the courts of the state of Pará in the same month, but has yet to appear before the courts due to the process even though he is free right now. When responding to questions posed by Pública, Queiroz Carvalho’s lawyer responded that “he acted as a buyer for an export company, having been wrongly identified as the owner of a logging company that would have received an illegal amount of lumber. The rightful owner subsequently appeared in court and assumed responsibility for the company.” The lawyer also stated that the criminal process is in the due diligence phase and that “the defense is fully convinced of the future acquittal” of the accused individual.

Another partner, Cleidson Cavalcante Hashiguchi, is indicted in two federal court cases. In the first one, he was fined by ICMBio for practicing unauthorized mining in the Jamanxim river, in an area close to Flona Itaituba II, in Trairão, Pará state. He was denounced by the MPF and sentenced in the first instance, in Court I of Itaituba, in June 2019, but he appealed this process.

The MPF filed objections to the appeal and the lawsuit is now in a second instance appeal. Cleidson was also indicted along with six other people for illegal gold mining activities at the Juami-Japurá Ecological Station in Tefé, state of Amazonas. Neither Cleidson nor his defense spoke to us, before this publication was made.

Plastic Artist Leads List Related to Number of Applications in 2019. The giant Anglo American also appears prominently

The champion of applications for mining exploration on Indigenous group lands, during the Bolsonaro government, is the architect and artist Sami Hassan Akl. He filed seven diamond mining orders for TI access in 2019 alone. He is a partner of the company Bogari & Akl Comércio Importação e Exportação Ltda., based in Sao Paulo, focused on the artistic market. Pública requested his comments on this article. A person who identified himself as Sami Akl’s assistant reported that he was traveling abroad and was therefore unable to respond. He gave us the phone number of a geologist who would be assisting the artist in mining requests, but we were unable to contact the professional.

Another figure prominently in the investigation of mineral exploration applications is the London-based global mining giant, Anglo American. One of its subsidiaries, Anglo American Níquel do Brasil, the country’s largest nickel producer, appears in a leading manner in both versions of the investigation. The company submitted six exploration applications on Indigenous group lands in 2019. In this decade, it filed 46 requests for access to TIs.

The Anglo American group is also facing lawsuits related to environmental violations in Brazil. The company’s iron ore arm is the target of the civil lawsuit  of the Prosecutor’s Office (MP is the Portuguese acronym) of Minas Gerais due to the rupture of an oil pipeline in the municipality of San Antonio do Gama, in Minas Gerais. The MP of the state of Minas Gerais also collected R$ 400 million in court as compensation for collective moral and social damages to the communities impacted by the Minas-Río pipeline, a case already addressed in our report. At the federal level, the Minas Gerais MPF requested the suspension of the operating licenses already granted to Anglo American, as well as the environmental license of the Minas-Río project.

After requesting their opinion, Anglo American stated that it “presented its defense in court and did not wish to comment on its content.” Regarding the requests, the company said that it made them “based on available geological data,” that “authorization will be granted to carry out these mineral research works or not by the competent authorities” and that “it only performs mineral research work in duly authorized areas.” The company also said, in a note, that it “carried out a portfolio review and removed all applications in research areas on Indigenous group lands until 2015. Current research requests that may border Indigenous lands may be blocked if there are requests for access to those territories. In such cases, it is the responsibility of the National Mining Agency (ANM is the Portuguese acronym) to correctly delimit the blocks outside the Indigenous group areas or reservations.

Processes in a “Snow White” State

“Normally, when an application for mining on Indigenous group lands is submitted, its processing is suspended. It is a curious bureaucratic phenomenon. The requests are not rejected, but neither are they approved, they remain, as we call it, in a “Snow White” state, sleeping awaiting the prince’s kiss. The ANM (National Mining Agency) keeps some titles in this situation. There are cases of titles granted before the approval of Indigenous group lands or before the enactment of the 1988 Constitution. There are doubts in the courts about these titles,” explains the founding partner of Instituto Socioambiental (Socio-Environmental Institute) (ISA, for its Portuguese acronym), Márcio Santilli.

According to the ANM’s statement to the MPF of Pará, the agency considers that the lack of a regulatory law does not prevent the mining processes from being suspended, that is, they are opened and paralyzed. In August 2019, the Federal Court of the state of Amazonas ruled that the ANM should clear from its database all requests for research or mining that affected Indigenous territories in this state.

“We do not know if the ANM will extend this dismissal process to other states, but the existence of these mining processes is an anomalous situation. There is already case law in the Supreme Federal Court (STF is the Portuguese acronym) that indicates that the right of Indigenous peoples does not depend on the approval of land ownership. This means that any property title related to Indigenous group lands, including with respect to mining, must be voided. The ANM pretends to be dead even so that there are no claims by the holders of these titles,” argues Santilli.

After requesting their opinions, the ANM and FUNAI did not respond to questions until the date of publication of this article.


To identify these data, Pública used the database of mining requests from the National Mining Agency (ANM is the Portuguese acronym) and compared them with the Land mapping of Indigenous Land (TI is the Portuguese acronym) of FUNAI, in order to establish the areas of overlap of processes in Indigenous territories. Mining processes are records in the ANM that people and companies must request before exploring any mineral or substance in the Brazilian subsoil. They begin with the request for authorization to carry out investigations on the existence of the substance and continue until the final stage, when the license for exploration or mining can be granted. The entire process delimits an area of land on which it is intended to carry out the procedures for the mining activity.

Pública’s investigation took into account all the processes in Indigenous areas at different stages of the demarcation process. Indigenous lands may have been approved based on existing mining applications, but these have not been canceled.

The report is included in the Agencia Pública project called Lawless Amazon Region, which investigates violence related to territorial regularization, land demarcation and agrarian reform in the Legal Amazon Region. The special article also covers conflicts in Cerrado, the second largest Brazilian