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Brumadinho: Two years of impunity

Two years after the collapse of the dam in Brazil, the people affected have still not received full reparation

March of people affected by dams in Brumadinho, Brazil, January 2019. Photo: MAB

25 January 2020 marked two years since the worst environmental crime in the history of Brazil: the collapse of a giant mining dam operated by Vale S.A., located in Córrego do Feijao, near Brumadinho, Minas Gerais State. The thousands of people affected have still not received adequate reparations for the impacts they suffered.

The Brazilian Movement of Peoples Affected by Dams (MAB) denounced this in several online and in-person events held ahead of 25 January, anniversary of the mudslide that engulfed offices, houses, animals and the Paraopeba River.

“Vale’s only goal is to put profit over life. In the Brumadinho region, the company is doing all it can to avoid paying for its crimes, including any new expenses for reparation of the rights that were violated. At the same time, they want to continue exploiting the mineral resources in Minas Gerais, sending it abroad without paying taxes,” denounced MAB on 22 January, as part of the evaluation they presented to the international media two years after the socioenvironmental crime in Brumadinho.

“Vale uses various strategies to achieve these goals, from capturing governments, members of Parliament, courts, government bodies and other institutional legal structures, to disorganising the population and weakening their capacity to fight by co-opting affected people and popular leaders, and even constantly spreading fake news.”

Joceli Andrioli, member of the National Coordination of MAB, was critical of the fact that the transnational company has continued its operations even during the pandemic. She reported that the company is carrying out a media campaign to greenwash their image and falsely claim that they are working to repair the damage caused.

Vale did not stop operating during the pandemic,” highlighted Andrioli. “The company’s main interest is to continue profiting from their operations, causing even more workers’ deaths. The company is carrying out a propaganda campaign, saying that they will resolve the situation of the affected people, but this is only to increase the value of their shares.”

Andrioli highlighted that in October 2020, Vale announced that they had reached a so-called “Global Agreement” for reparations for the people affected by the collapse of the dam, but the people themselves were not a part of the negotiations. The transnational corporation did not provide any details about the agreement, except that it had been drafted together with the mining authorities and judicial institutions such as the Ombudsman Office and the Public Prosecutor’s Office.

At first, the proposal was for Vale to pay 54 billion reais (approximately 10 billion US dollars) for the economic damage caused to the State and the moral and collective damage caused in the community. However, Vale proposed to pay less than half: 3.9 billion dollars, of which 375 million would be destined to the 8,000 affected people (although MAB estimates that more than one million people were affected in the area).

Joelisia Feitosa, from Juatuba city (located in the Paraopeba River Basin that was badly affected by the Brumadinho mudslide), said in a press conference that the people affected feel that they have not been taken in to account by the justice system:

“In these two years, we feel a great sense of impunity. The people affected do not feel considered by the justice system.”

Without the participation of those affected, the Global Agreement has come to nothing so far. There is no monetary reparation or assistance for the former workers of the company who were psychologically affected by what they experienced during the collapse, or the families who lost their loved ones. There is no compensation nor material or symbolic reparations commensurate to what they experienced, and the people affected are not allowed to participate in decision about how they should be compensated for the human rights violations they endured.

“Vale is not complying with the small agreements they promised, such as providing monthly emergency aid and drinking water,” exposed Joelisia. “The State mandated Vale to manage these issues but the company has been manipulating the population, determining who was or was not affected, who should receive this aid or not. In this way they are weakening the territories, dividing the population.”

But it is not just Vale: “The justice system is ignoring the real and urgent needs of people from several municipalities which were invaded by the toxic mud from the mine,” stated MAB’s evaluation.

Joceli described how many of the affected families are living in chaos, especially due to contaminated water along the Paraopeba Basin. This contamination affects access to drinking water, agricultural production and artisanal fisheries, the main livelihoods of the communities living by the shore of the river. Added to this is the drastic reduction of tourism activities and the prohibition to swim and visit many municipalities. There are also numerous health problems, ranging from skin allergies to deep depressive states.
Joelisia explained:

“Many people are dying from depression, sadness, there are many who attempted suicide, many people lost their dignity. Our lives changed violently overnight. We lost our health, our animals, our orchards, stores closed. Sadly, people have still not received any compensation.”

After the collapse of a mining dam in Mariana in 2015, which affected the Doce River Basin and contaminated over 300 km of the Atlantic Ocean, MAB highlights that “in Brazil, no measures have been taken to prevent a new environmental crime from happening again.” At least 83 out of the 840 dams in Minas Gerais are at high risk of collapsing over different cities, just like what happened two years ago.

“Vale does not want to pay up for the crimes caused by the mining activity here. This transnational corporation wants to show its shareholders and the market that they are negotiating with the affected people and the State. That is why it is important to strengthen the coordination between Latin American social movements, to confront these attacks by transnational corporations.”

While recognising that the context for the struggle is quite complicated, “we remain hopeful”, says Andrioli, “because we are a movement of workers who will never step down and we will continue fighting for a better world, where the peoples are respected and the criminals are punished. That is why we say: Water for life, not for death!”

In our Photo Gallery we share three moments: The first five photos are part of a photo report by Isis Medeiros (MAB) taken a few hours after the collapse of the dam, in Córrego do Feijao and Brumadinho. Then we share photos of the march organised by MAB one year after the crime. Lastly we share other photos of activities carried out in line with health protocols in this second year after the crime on 25 January 2021. 

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