The heart pulled out of the earth
Images of a tsunami of toxic mud with iron ore residue devastating cities, landscape, rivers, and Espírito Santo state seacoast are still vivid in the minds of Brazilians. This tragedy was caused by the collapse of the Fundão mining residue dam, owned by the Samarco mining company, a Vale and BHP Billiton joint venture. Although damages have yet to be assessed, this disaster will directly impact over three million people living in the Rio Doce Valley, and may well affect several future generations. So far, the death of at least twenty persons, hundreds of thousands fishes and other aquatic and wild animals, and extinction of all life in the areas affected by the toxic mud have been confirmed. Yet to be assessed are the consequences for the Atlantic Ocean and peripheral ecosystems along the coasts of Espírio Santo down to southern Bahia states.
The Great Grandfather Watu
The Krenak Indigenous people are among millions of persons directly affected by this environmental crime. The Krenak people’s name for the Rio Doce (Sweet River) is Watu. The have struggled for almost a whole century for legal recognition of their lands on the Watu banks. In a territory devastated by pasture and monoculture, the Krenaks tried to recover the forest, the fauna, and resumed their ritual ceremonies in homage of Watu, their Great Grandfather. They now cannot survive without the river’s waters and fishes, and new generations will be denied any daily interaction with the Rio Doce.
The social and environmental disaster caused by Samarco in the city of Mariana is replicated, in lesser but no less serious proportions, in many regions of South America and in other continents where those mining companies operate, ripping the heart out of the earth and sapping its vital energy to feed an increasingly voracious consumer society.
The mining of ore, tin, nickel, bauxite, gold, diamonds and other precious stones, and other minerals such as uranium, is violently displacing populations in the Carajás Industrial Area, in Pará, Maranhão, and Tocantins states, throughout the whole Minas Gerais state, in the interior of Bahia, along the borders of Brazil with Bolivia, Paraguay and Argentina, in Peru, Colombia, and in several areas of the Pan-Amazonia. This activity pollutes the atmosphere and waters, drains the water table, and harms the environment in general. This happens without any clear-cut legislation, without monitoring by public authorities, without norms to protect ecosystems and people – with the single focus on profits to fatten the bank accounts of large corporations’ shareholders.
Networking with affected people in many continents
“We visited Mariana region a few months before the disaster, together with the International Movement of People Affected by Vale Southern Caravan. We visited these places that no longer exist.” Carolina Moura, CASA Fund’s Advisory Board member and partner, talks with emotion and indignation about the environmental disaster that happened in December 2015. She is also a member of the International Movement of People Affected by Vale, made up of individuals and organizations from Brazil, Chile, Peru, Argentina, Mozambique, Canada, and Indonesia. They network and mobilize in countries where Vale operates collecting information, sharing experiences, and exposing the socioenvironmental problems, thus confronting that mining company’s methods and discourse.
Carolina lives in Minas Gerais state, in the Casa Branca municipality, close to Belo Horizonte. “Even here in Casa Branca we live under the threat of expanding ore mines invading environmental protection areas and putting at risk the water table that supplies the region. There are hundreds of mining residue dams without any official monitoring that may collapse at any time, causing new tragedies.”
The CASA Fund has supported dozens of projects across South America to empower populations affected by mining and its byproducts, such as railways and ports to ship products, deforestation, and eucalyptus monocultures to produce charcoal.
Comboni Missionaries for justice
In the Carajás Industrial Area, in Brazil’s northernmost region, where mining activity also transforms the landscape and cultures, the Comboni Missionaries are coordinating the “Justice on Tracks” campaign, which the CASA Fund also supports. Today the Fund has become an important ally of local populations in search for decent living conditions. Father Dario Bossi speaks in this way about this partnership:
“The CASA Fund is an ally that goes much beyond just funding projects; it’s also a partner in political actions, in campaigns. It has supported us to go beyond the local territory and influence higher spheres, as well as receive partners and political allies for important exchanges. The Fund is a political actor in the struggle for environmental justice, helping to empower us, and to structure our network at its difficult beginning, ensuring the basis to consolidate our work.
“And now something very beautiful is happening. We have the privilege of establishing ties with more popular entities and communities and of motivating them to submit projects to the CASA Fund, such as the Pequiá community.
“The same way we were benefited, we are now helping others to get their benefit, and so it goes on and on. We believe that support has a lot of potential when well done, within a dynamics of relations, not only financial but also political. Things happen in the territories, as seeds we sow are spread around and then create new seeds. A network, linking affected communities with each other and with external entities and movements, can make a difference. The CASA Fund gave us two important grants to help in networking with the International Movement of People Affected by Vale. These projects aimed to reinforce the struggle by helping to organize the Plenary Meeting and support the participation of leaders of the affected communities in the Vale Shareholder Assembly and Rio+20 Conference.”
The International Movement of People Affected by Vale has innovated in its composition. It pulls together representatives from a broad range of interests: families affected by mining activities, workers exploited in ore, charcoal, nickel, and copper mines, trade union members, environmentalists, feminists, politicians, students, teachers, Indigenous peoples, Quilombolas, riverbank dwellers, fishers, peasants… In addition to traditional spaces, the Movement also innovates in its search for new spaces for justice, and in new action tools and strategies. Campaigns utilized “shadow reports,” such as the Unsustainability Report, production of graphical materials mirroring the ones made by Vale, but with information based on valid research and facts. This counter information is an important tool and has had a positive impact on the dissemination of information that seldom reaches the public. CASA Fund has also supported these actions.
The Critical Shareholders was another innovative methodology. In the last six years, persons from the Movement have purchased Vale shares at the Stock Market and thus had access to the company’s shareholder assemblies, where they could raise questions and give testimonies.
Capital has no flag
Gabriel Strautman, an economist from the Institute of Alternative Policies for the Southern Cone (PACS), is one of the creators of that Movement. He spoke about the importance of the CASA Fund’s support to their actions that pull together people from several countries to exchange information and to share knowledge and strategies for the struggle for rights, in response to Vale’s initiatives:
“The CASA Fund’s support has been fundamental because it has enabled the convening of international meetings among the movement’s different actors. These gatherings are the richest networking moments, getting people together and enabling knowledge sharing, exposing the impacts of a Brazilian mining company not only in Brazil, but also in several other countries where it operates. This is especially relevant when we discuss South-South relations and other forms of globalization. This movement raised in this debate a Brazilian company – which is not a northern hemisphere firm, historically northern companies have always been more criticized – but it’s a company that reproduces a pattern, a development model in neighboring countries and other continents showing the same predatory action as northern companies, thus demonstrating that capital has no flag.”
Protecting the earth’s heart
The importance of social control for issues of such impact as mining is made clear in these brief accounts by some CASA Fund’s grantees and partners. Only an active and well-informed society that understands its right to demand inspection and vigilance policies for extractivist companies, that demands responsibilities from companies, requires compensation compatible with the extent of damages – such as this Samarco/Vale/BHP disaster – and that is ready to get directly involved in these processes will be able to turn this game around.
The CASA Fund tries to help social control actions because we believe that only a fully aware and empowered society is able to deeply transform its destiny, creating new ways to protect people and all natural life on which we depend. One day, who knows, we will learn from our traditional peoples, the best caretakers of this planet, that to continue living here we cannot rip out the earth’s heart.
|Text by: Angela Pappiani – Journalist, cultural producer at Ikore and CASA’s advisor since its foundation.
English translation by Jones de Freitas.