South America is rich in natural resources and mining and minerals make up a large part of the region's economy. Mining in the Amazon Rainforest has become more prevalent in the last two decades as mountain mineral deposits in the region have depleted. The Amazon holds vast mineral deposits and South American leaders, eager to set their countries on the path of development, have granted mining rights to thousands of acres of rainforest.
Mining activities in the Amazon Rainforest occur in the South American countries of Peru, Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela and Brazil. According to the U.S. Department of State, "Peru is the world's top producer of silver, second in zinc and third in copper and tin." Mineral exports accounted for 63 per cent of Peru's export revenue in 2008. Colombia is the fifth largest coal exporting country in the world and has also recently opened up the Amazon Rainforest to gold, silver, copper and molybdenum mining. Brazil mines large deposits of iron and manganese. Brazil's nickel, tin, bauxite, beryllium, copper, lead, tungsten, zinc and gold are considered nearly depleted. Other important mining exports for the Amazon region include silver, emeralds and diamonds.
Mining makes up large percentages of the economies of South American countries generating revenues for public projects and infrastructure. South America's mineral resources give the region a favourable position on the world economic stage and influence over global trade policies. The mining industry also points out that while it is criticised for damaging the environment, "the original flora and fauna of much of the land involved in mining is restored once mining operations have ceased," according to the European Aluminum Association (EAA).
Mining in the Amazon causes vast environmental degradation. Rainforests are some of the most biodiverse and most fragile biomes in the world. Deforestation occurs as a result of removing the rainforest's crust to expose the mineral deposits. While mining companies boast forest restoration, converting mining sites back to true rainforests is difficult; much of the original ecosystem is lost. Soil and water contamination are other environmental consequences of mining.
Mining in the Amazon Rainforest affects the people who depend on the resources of the forest for subsistence. According to the World Rainforest Movement, "mining projects in the Amazon endanger the very survival of the local communities, because mining operations contaminate rivers, diminish native flora and fauna, and restrict use of natural resources by the region's ancestral inhabitants." Water and soil contamination make it impossible for communities to grow crops, severely endangering the subsistence lifestyle of Amazon communities.
While South American governments have traditionally granted generous concessions to foreign mining companies and even revoked laws banning mining practices in national protected wildlife areas, some protective regulation does exist. The inter-American Commission on Human Rights helps to protect the rights of indigenous communities threatened by mining and other destructive practices. Convention 169 adopted by the International Labour Organisation "establishes a system of protection and consultation mechanisms about laws, projects and policies affecting the homelands of native peoples," according to the Interpress Service News Agency (IPS).
- European Aluminum Association (EAA); Bauxite mining and rainforest
- Interpress Service (IPS) News Agency; Mining Companies Venture into the Amazon
- Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
- U.S. Department of State; Background Notes: Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia,Venezuela
- World Rainforest Movement: Colombia: Militarized mining