MONTH INTERVIEW – Ana Carolina Haliuc Bragança: The illegal gold mining is present in a transversal manner in Amazon causing environmental and social damages

Certification and public policies are essential against the illegality, Ana Bragança, Attorney General, says.

By Eduardo Geraque

Amazon Task Force, created in 2018 in the scope of the Federal Public Prosecution Office (MPF) to fight the environmental criminality in the North of the country, has acted, since then, in several actions against deforestation, the illegal gold mining, and other types of environmental impacts. In the coordination of the works, the Attorney General, Ana Carolina Haliuc Bragança, optimistically sees the activities of the body, which were guaranteed for one year more in February. According to her, for the time being, the lively environmental discussion in Brasília does not interfere in the daily work of the attorneys.

About the problems faced in the largest rainforest in the world, Ana Carolina is emphatic in saying how the posture of the group she coordinates has changed the understanding of the mechanisms the illegal mining uses in the region. Such clarity of the process, according to her, allowed the Federal Public Prosecution Office to strategically act in fighting the illegal mining in Amazon.

In this interview to Instituto Escolhas, Ana Carolina also explains how the changes presented to Brazilian National Congress to change the land regularization legislation in effect in the Country will encourage the deforesters to increasingly pull the forest down, in all Brazilian biomes.    

In the broadcasting Escolhas podcast, episode# 8 – Scenario of organized environmental and land criminality in Amazon, the attorney talks a little more about the private appropriation of what is public, and about environmental and land matters. In Spotfy and Soundcloud platforms.

Instituto Escolhas – When we talk about illegal mining, are we exactly referring to which type of activity? How to separate what is legal from what is illegal? 

Ana Carolina Haliuc Bragança – To be legal, all mining extraction needs to be two documents. Without them, it is an illegal activity. The first document is the one where the Federal Government authorizes the interested party to promote the extraction, because all ore belongs to the Federal Government, as the Federal Constitution certifies. When the Federal Government certifies, it is providing the person with the prerogative of enjoying an asset that, in principle, is the former’s. The second administrative act is the environmental license. It confirms the use of the extraction in relation to the environmental impacts, and defines the compensation and mitigation measures that need to be made so that the activity has the smallest impact as possible on the environment. When we talk about illegal mining, we refer to the activities of people that promote an extraction with no authorization of the Federal Government, which is given through the Brazilian National Mining Agency, as well as with no environmental licensing, which may be given, depending on the case,  by the Federal Government, by the State, or by the city. Today, the illegal gold mining is present in a transversal manner in Amazon in almost all States. In Roraima, in Amazonas, in Rondônia, in Pará, in Amapá, and in Mato Grosso. Almost all States have, to any extent, incidence of illegal gold mining. The percentage of such illegality is not well defined. In the survey of Escolhas [presented in TD “The new gold rush in Amazon”] it is showed that 20% of illegality of everything that is produced of gold in Brazil. However, if you bring that to Amazon reality, such percentage may be even higher. They are data that still need to be deepened. 

Escolhas – May we affirm that the mining, today, is the main engine of destruction of the forest?

Ana Carolina – Although in terms of area the destruction of the mining is not so relevant as the deforestation, it is an activity especially burdensome due to the deep impact it causes. In the context of a mining in Yanomami Indigenous Land, where there is the intensive use of mercury, and there are data of the Ministry of Mines and Energy that show that 95% of the illegal gold washers use mercury, Uraricoera river, for example, one of the main ones of the Indigenous Land, is fully polluted. What represents a very serious environmental damage to the fauna, flora, and communities. The impact of the mining that spread through the soil and water resources is very serious. Consequently, such transversal problem needs to be strongly faced. There is a report of the Federal Police, produced in Santarém, which mentions, for example, that the mining launches in Tapajós river, every seven years, a quantity of waste equivalent to that launched in Mariana’s disaster. And it has been occurred for decades. When the gold washer thinks of his individual activity, many times he doesn’t see the reach it has as a whole, but he is part of a gear that cumulatively generates an extremely significant damage.

Escolhas – Is it the reason you defends the thesis that the environmental impact of the mining is socialized?

Ana Carolina – The concept of externalities is something well defined in Economy field. The gold washer internalizes the profit with the activity, he extracts and sells the gold, and such money is with him, but the environmental damage is caused by his activity, he doesn’t pay for. The damage ends up being borne by everyone who lives in that ecosystem, including by all other human beings, the plants, and the animals. And also by all society that does not directly live in that environment, but who is benefited by the environmental services he provides. Therefore, in the case of Amazon forest, it is everyone, as it is showed.

Escolhas – Does the mining in Amazon also comprehends an important social impact, is there any alternative to such theme to be solved?

Ana Carolina – In fact, the mining is also a social problem. There is a mass of people that continues being explored due to the mining. So much that MPT [Public Labor Prosecution Office] has groups related to the exploration of slave labor in a context of mining. The social problem arises in such activity when the local economies make the raising of the illegal act. There is the idea that is the sole manner of income generation, to that city or that population, is the mining. While there is no change of mentality of the entrepreneurs themselves, and also effective public policies of incentive to other mechanisms of income generation in forest, such dilemma, which s old, will continue. The sustainable development only makes sense tanking into account the environmental and social aspects. One does not make sense without the other. Finding the contact point between them is important, and, for sure, it is not in the way as the forest is explored by the mining today.

Escolhas – When we talk about solutions to reduce the environmental and social impacts of the mining, does it go through a greater concern in certifying the gold that is extracted from the soil of the forest? 

Ana Carolina – In such area, the first thing that really needs to be done is the State to start to invest in gold control and certification mechanisms. Normally, the illegal gold is introduced in the economy in the first sale, the one that the gold washer does to the gold purchase point, which represents a DTVM [Bonds and Securities Distributor]. The fraud occurs at such time. In such first sale, the crossing of data that allows the identification of an illegal act is extremely fragile. The greatest part of the DTVMs nor even identify if, in fact, the bond of extraction the gold washer invokes is really gold, if it is effective, or if the annual extraction report, a mandatory document, was presented. They also do not grant if that bond is in the name of the person that is selling the gold, or, then, if the seller has a partnership contract with the extraction holder. Crossing data, through any electronic system, would already be a first way of control to make the fraud difficult. I will not say to remove it, because it is almost impossible. The second important thing is to have a gold tracking system, as well as there is one to wood, and which is also not exempt from frauds, but has made its occurrence difficult. It would be important to check the path traveled by the gold that is on the end, in a jewelery industry, for instance. There is also a third path to be developed that is to invest in the gold production in the mines through the mining with reduction of damages. It is a mining that does not use mercury, and is based on more modern technologies. Such innovation possibility, which considers the possibility of social, economic, and environmental development, is very important. We may not be stuck in past. The private sector, which has the DTVMs, a mandatory document to operate with gold as a financial asset, also increasingly has to work to certify that it is not buying gold of illegal origin. Such concern with all production chain currently is a global reality.

Escolhas – What are the next steps of Amazon Task Force?

Ana Carolina – We have a work mechanism that is similar to a support group’s one. We do not use the model, for example, of Car Wash Operation, of attorneys assigned to a specific case. In fact, we have a large group of attorneys, and the most part of them already works with the environment in Amazon. And we have other mates that do not work with environment, but with corruption fighting or with criminal matter. And, upon adding them, we are able to increase the workforce. Then, with such format, the Task Force is able to strengthen the action of the Public Prosecution Office in the environment area. I optimistically see the way we are working. We developed a very close interlocution with different people that work in the States of the region, which enables the conversation about replicating a methodology that worked in other locations, and also developing common views about problems faced in several places, as it is the case of mining. The perspective, for example, that we needed to leave the gold washer’s focus as the base, and start to see how the gold is being internalized in the economy was collectively built. Several mates worked with such same look, and exchanging a lot of information between themselves. It was a very positive result. It is a group work, an institutional work really.

Escolhas – You have developed many actions until now in Amazon, against the deforestation, the mining, and other matters. What has been the Judiciary Branch’s reception to the work of the Task Force?

Ana Carolina – We have several demands in several places. In Amazonas, in Rondônia, in Pará. In general, the Judiciary Branch has cooperated. Different from us, they do not have such regional organization, but they have acted with impartiality, independence, with the natural rigor they have in complex cases. I do not see resistance, to the contrary, and in many cases, including, they have congratulated us for the organization, and for our way of working, always within their independence.  Not necessarily accepting everything we ask. But they are very sensitive to the problems we face. And also aware the the Judiciary Branch has a role to be played in repressing the environmental illegal acts.

Escolhas – Are the discussions about the environmental matter in Brasília affecting your work in any manner?

Ana Carolina – Not for now. The Task Force was renewed, there was no any attempt of interference in our work, thus far there as nothing that prevented us from working.

Escolhas – What is your assessment about the proposals of change in the land regulation legislation? Do such changes cooperate, in any manner, in facing the social matters that exist in rural world?  

Ana Carolina – We work with the them of the land regularization in the matter of fighting the deforestation, we even produced a technical note about MP 910/2019, as well as about PL 2633/2020. The social matter associated to the land regularization exists. That is, there is a mass of small farmers that really needs, for being there for a long time, that their lands are regularized. But such demand is already met by the effective legislation, which allows the land legislation of areas of up to four fiscal modules, including with no inspection, provided that efficient mechanisms of environmental inspection are used. There is a decision of the Federal Supreme Court [STF] specifically mentioning such matter. In Amazon, the four fiscal modules represent 440 hectares. Therefore, the small farmer is already assisted. Now the proposed change comes to enhance the public entitled to waive the inspection. The rapporteur’s proposal is of up to six modules, which enters the medium property, and has proposals of the rural caucus to enhance up to 15 modules the area that will have waiver of inspection. We understand that it is extremely harmful. 

Escolhas – What is the risk of such inspection waivers?

Ana Carolina – Such inspection waiver is very complicated in the sense that it may mask conflicts that are common in Amazon, and which are not detected by satellite. The satellite shows that a certain area was being cultivated at a certain date, but it does not show who was responsible for that plantation. Knowing the whole process is extremely important in a context where illegal appropriation is very present, and where the conflicts for land are also present. Such Law also comes to enhance the land regularization policy outside Amazon. We understand that all of this should be submitted to a broader discussion. The facilitating measures of land regularization thought by Law 11.952 [of 2019], which is the original law, were based on the fact that Amazon is an extremely precarious place in the sense of access to markets and distribution of the production. For the fact that the small producers have a series of difficulties of logistics, then it could justify a policy of fixation on the land that facilitates their lives, and could pay a little for the bond. But, when we extend such policy to several other biomes that do not face such difficulties, facilities will be offered, which were thought to a context of precariousness to whom does not live such precariousness. Thus, a public asset is being waived. We do not know how much of public asset would have been delivered for prices much lower than the market prices. The impacts thereof to the Federal Government, whether social or property, was not measured. It is a discussion that shall be deepened. 

Escolhas – For all your experience accumulated in Amazon region, may we affirm that the deforestation, organized crime, and corruption are all the same thing?

Ana Carolina – They are interconnected systems. Today, we are able to observe that the environmental violators are organized in a structured manner, with people performing specific functions within an organization. For example, the person that illegally appropriates a land may contract a second person to be a foreman. Such person will effectively contract who will make the deforestation. Additionally, another person will be found in name of who CAR [Cadastro Ambiental Rural – Rural Environmental Register] or the rural real estate register with Incra [Instituto Nacional de Colonização e Reforma Agrária – Brazilian National Institute of Colonization and Agrarian Reform], so that the name of the effective illegal land grabber does not appear. Such land grabber may eventually corrupt state agents, whether environmental or land ones. With that, the expectancy always is to obtain gains from the exercise of economical activities within the grabbed and deforested area. Such scenario already characterizes a typical form of criminal organization because different people, in different functions, are all aimed at a common purpose: private appropriation of the public asset.