Following international trends, Brazil has fostered economic development at any price through capital incentives. It charges the lowest royalties (amounts paid to the government for natural mineral resources extraction rights) in the world, makes regulation more flexible in order to make granting licenses (even) easier and overlooks infrastructure security.
Mining has been defended as a priority by the Brazilian industry and agribusiness, and so it remains. Now it also has the support of President Jair Bolsonaro and the Environment Minister, Ricardo Salles.
Vale S.A., one of the world’s largest mining companies and a specialist in the production of iron ores, pellets and nickel, was responsible for these last two disasters – since it is also the owner of Samarco.
“Vale cannot be condemned”
The structure of the Brumadinho dam was built in 1976 and acquired by Vale in 2001, when Ferteco, the former company owned by the German group ThyssenKrupp, was sold. The dam was undergoing shutdown process up until the time of the disaster.
The mud avalanche that flowed through the Park took with it company facilities and hundreds of rural properties in the Córrego do Feijão and Parque das Cachoeiras’ communities. It left another trail of environmental destruction, dead and missing people. 12 million cubic meters of toxic ores scattered over 46 kilometers of territory, where the Paraopeba river flows – essential for local communities’ subsistence.
Dams like Brumadinho are made with the waste from the diggings themselves. Waste like mineral debris, rocks and land that, because they do not have commercial value, are deposited in layers in order to form the walls that support the dam. This construction technique is the cheapest, but it is also the one that carries the most security risks since it requires more maintenance.
In the case of the Mariana mine dam in 2015, the investigations carried out concluded that there were failures in the construction, maintenance and monitoring of the dam. These conclusions resulted in an obligation to compensate those affected, along with mere fines. Failures and consequences that reflect the uselessness of the regulation instruments.
As of this moment, several dams are at risk of collapsing. Many people have since been evacuated and sent to hotels, where they are still waiting for answers. One of them is the dam of the South Upper Gongo Seco mine, in the city of Barão de Cocais. The other is the Mar Azul mine dam, in the city of Nova Limba. Both belong to Vale. Finally, there is the dam of the Serra Azul mine, in the city Itatiauiçu. It belongs to ArcelorMittal, whose registered office is in Luxembourg.
“Water and Energy are not commodities!”
Since the late 1970s, still under the military dictatorship, the growth of mining projects has provoked the revolt of local communities. This revolt, in turn, gave rise to collective organization.
As is the case throughout Latin America, many have been the assassinations, reported by both movements, of those who have tried to mobilize.
“60 days of impunity amidst the mud, the struggle resists!”
Shortly after the disaster in Brumadinho, the MAB went to the Parque das Cachoeiras to support the local population who survived to tell the story. A commission of the affected was formed, which would participate in the negotiations that took place after the disaster. Several commissions of affected people were formed throughout all the cities in the Paraopeba River Basin.
On February 20, the struggle of those affected in Brumadinho resulted in a decision which was seen by the community as a victory. Vale was forced by court decision to pay compensation to all homeowners up to a kilometer away from the banks of the now contaminated river Paraopeba. Everyone else otherwise also affected was left out.
Consequently, and because there is no restitution capable of compensating for the environmental and human damages caused, the protests continue.
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