Brumadinho: 4 years after the crime, victims continue to demand justice

(From articles published by the Coletivo Nacional de Comunicação do MAB)


It is now four years since the biggest environmental and social crime in Brazil, the collapse of the tailings deposits of the Córrego do Feijão mine in Brumadinho, in which 272 people died and 12 million cubic metres of toxic waste were dumped into the Paraopeba river basin. For the past four years, the MAB (Movement of Affected by Dams) has represented and united the victims of this mining crime.

These four years are characterised by coinciding with the Covid 18 pandemic, which had a particular impact on Brazil and affected popular mobilisation, and with the extreme right-wing government of Jair Bolsonaro. In the case of Brumadinho, we also have the precedent of the 2014 crime of Mariana, by the same company, Vale, grouped in the Samarco consortium. This precedent also demonstrates the willingness of both the company and the government to avoid compensating and offering justice. That is why, four years later, the victims of the Brumadinho crime continue to demand justice. Or more because, as they denounce, with each passing year of impunity, the impact of the crime increases.

Testimonies by those affected

Lindaura Prates was affected by this crime and participates in the MAB (Movement of Dam Victims), the main movement organising and representing the victims against the company and the government. Lindaura Prates, 56 years old, is a resident of São Joaquim de Bicas (MG). She was affected by the contaminated sludge brought by the Paraopebas River. Fishing, drinking water and the community’s use of the river for recreation, refreshment and watering the plantations have been lost.

Cláudia Brandão tries to remove the mud from her fields. Photos: Personal archive and Joka Madruga

She has «3,000 metres of plantations that are under the waste. I only have the fruit left, but it is also dying». Lindaura continues: «In addition to not being able to continue producing, there is the problem of contaminated water, which has made many people sick. We have many neighbours with skin diseases, people with depression, suicide attempts. Before, we had a healthy life here. What I would like is to be able to have a healthy life again”.

Michelle Rocha is a neighbour of Colônia de Santa Izabel. She too suffers from the pollution and the fear that she or her three children will get sick. In her case, both the Paraopeba’s water and the tailings are present daily, as they have never been removed. You can’t eat anything planted 100 metres from the river. The river is no longer a source of sustenance and leisure, a source of life, but their nightmare. Michelle joined MAB «to fight for their lives, for the welfare and safety of my children, because the jewels that lost their lives in this crime will never come back, but we can still fight for the lives of our children».

Michelle experienced the toxicity of the tailings mixed with the water, which contains many heavy metals: «We, who went into the flooded houses to try to save our neighbours’ things, came out with wounded skin. Vale says that the water is not contaminated, but she does not let her employees come into contact with it”.

In this context, Fernanda Fortes, who is one of MAB’s coordinators in Minas Gerais, highlights the seriousness of Vale’s position in denying the contamination of the water, proven by several studies, including Fiocruz’s: «With this discourse, they are encouraging residents to use water that will cause diseases, to plant on land that is contaminated. This is criminal,» she says.

The Paraopeba river carries lethal mud (Photo: Joka Madruga)

On the 25th, Michelle participated in a hearing at the Court of Minas Gerais to tell her story along with other affected people and to ask for an accelerated reparation process in the Brumadinho case. «I am here urgently asking for sensitivity and humanity to look after the lives of these people who have been waiting for four years for justice and the right to life,» she said.

Hearing at the 2nd Court of Minas Gerais in Belo Horizonte

A hearing was held on 27 January at the 2nd Court of Minas Gerais, in Belo Horizonte. It was attended by the affected people and representatives of MAB, the Minas Gerais Public Prosecutor’s Office, the State Public Defender’s Office, the Guaicuy Technical Advisory Office and Judge Murilo de Abreu. Meanwhile, outside, affected people from several municipalities in the Paraopeba basin held a rally to demand justice.

In this hearing, the victims of Brumadinho demanded speed in the process of integral reparation, especially with regard to the right to individual compensation and the centrality of the victims in the design, execution and evaluation of the reparation programmes that concern them.

The people affected reported that four years later they are still suffering the consequences of the mining collapse, such as physical and psychological health problems, lack of access to drinking water and the non-viability of productive activities in the territory. They insisted that the lack of reparation causes the «re-victimisation» of the people affected by the crime. Furthermore, in 2021, the families were again affected during the floods that spread toxic mud and contaminated everything.

The meeting focused on the handling of the petition of the justice institutions. It calls for the appointment of an expert to determine the damages suffered by each category of affected people (such as fishermen, farmers, riverside dwellers, etc.) and the amounts of compensation for these damages.

The document also calls for the adoption of the principle of «reversal of the burden of proof» in the case. In other words, Vale will have to prove that it did not cause the damage alleged by those affected, rather than the victims having to gather all the evidence. The last request is that the independent technical consultants, who are already working in the territory, continue to work throughout the process of producing evidence and paying compensation, being financed by Vale.

According to Fernanda Portes, coordinator of MAB, «these measures are essential to reduce, in passing, the disparity between a company, which is one of the largest iron ore miners in the world, and those affected, who were already living in a situation of social vulnerability, aggravated by the crime».

During the hearing, affected people from the Paraopeba basin gathered to demand justice. Photo: Francisco Kelvim

Waiting for reparation

All the residents present reported the appearance of various health problems in their communities after the crime, such as skin diseases, heavy metal poisoning and depression, in addition to other impacts specific to each type of community or profession.

Indigenous leader Liderjane Kaxixó, from the town of Martinho Campos, said that three villages that depend on the Pará River are suffering from overfishing in the river, as fishermen from Paraopeba are forced to migrate to the region.

Ilza Ribeiro, from Brumadinho, spoke about the reconfiguration of the occupation of the municipality with the mining works, the loss of affective ties between former neighbours, the mourning for the death of friends and the transformation of the cultural dynamics of the city, which lost its space of conviviality by the river. «We used to go there to get together, have a barbecue. The river is gone. The people who used to play there have died. It’s gone. We don’t even know the people who live in town anymore.»

The other people present also reported on the impacts on fishing and agriculture, the lack of job opportunities, the fear of contamination due to the lack of reliable information from the mining company, as well as the increase in violence in the territory and the daily coexistence with water and food insecurity.

In her speech, the representative of the Minas Gerais Public Prosecutor’s Office, Shirley Machado, recalled that the families who were again affected by the mining sludge during the 2021 floods urgently need to be repaired. «The repair, it has to be as comprehensive as possible. We have to assess all the damages that have not yet been contemplated in the last agreement signed in February».

In this sense, public defender Carolina Morishita stressed that comprehensive reparation needs to include real actions of socio-environmental recovery of the territory to avoid problems like this, recalling that «This process can be a reference in the construction of the resolution of socio-environmental conflicts in Brazil».

After hearing the reports, Judge Murilo de Abreu stated that he wants to hear more often from those most affected by the crime to try to help build more effective solutions to the case. «The judiciary is going to listen. It will participate as much as possible. I am very shocked by so much information and so much suffering, but I need to analyse everything I have heard in order to propose viable solutions,» he said. At the end of the meeting, a new hearing was set for 28 February so that the magistrate can respond to the petition filed in the county.

MAB coordinator Fernanda Portes stressed that for MAB impunity is unacceptable: «Four years after the crime, those affected continue to live in a reality of insecurity in the territory, with no prospects for the future. We hope that the courts will immediately proceed to judge those responsible for the crime and that full compensation will be paid to those affected and not to the company».

Anniversary celebration demanding reparations.

On 25 January, MAB also held an event at the UFMG Law School in Belo Horizonte to demand reparations. The event was attended by the Minister of Mines and Energy, Alexandre Silveira, prosecutors and parliamentarians participated in the event along with some 500 affected people and authorities.

During the event, those affected denounced the lack of comprehensive reparation to different communities in the Basin and demanded the support of the authorities present to promote justice and security for the population of the state. «The families who are here to denounce how their communities continue without reparation, living with new violations of rights, with water contaminated with superbugs, soil and air pollution and with their physical and mental health increasingly threatened. In addition, the people affected pay homage to and remember the 272 lives lost and stand in solidarity with the families of the victims, especially the three who have not yet been found», declared Letícia Oliveira, coordinator of MAB.


Photo: Francisco Kelvim / MAB

In his speech, Jarbas Soares Júnior, attorney general of the Minas Gerais Public Prosecutor’s Office (MPMG) pledged to act in favour of a fair settlement.

The newly apointed Minister of Mines and Energy, Alexandre Silveira, reaffirmed the commitment made when he took office in the federal government. «We will not forget Brumadinho and Mariana. We will invest resources and efforts in the fierce surveillance of dam safety to avoid a repetition of unfortunate events,» he said.

Silveira also spoke of the need to create new practices in mining in the country that prioritise respect for life. «We started our work basing our actions on social and environmental justice, with the reduction of inequalities, the reduction of the impact for those affected and the inclusion of communities in the positive outcomes of the ventures. There will be no possibility in our country of any mining policy tolerant of insecurity. Our commitment is to safety and respect for life. Our mining resources must be explored in a timely, sustainable and rational manner,» he said.

Finally, the minister highlighted the importance of social movements such as MAB in defending the interests of those affected. «Last week I received representatives of MAB to listen to the demands of the families affected by the Brumadinho and Mariana ruptures, as well as to discuss public policies capable of guaranteeing the safety of mineral activity in the country. I am clear about the importance of listening to social movements».

MP Duda Salabert (PDT) also expressed her support for those affected by the dams and pledged to fight not only for those responsible for the crimes in Mariana and Brumadinho to be held accountable, but also for a more rational economic model in the state of Minas Gerais: «4 years after the Vale crime in Brumadinho, a day of mourning, but a day of struggle, because mining companies are destroying not only the lives of the people, but also environmental legislation. Mining companies continue to destroy our mountains, such as the Serra do Curral and Serra do Gandarela. They are destroying our aquifers and they are also destroying our institutions, because the mining companies have bought part of the legislative power, they have bought part of the judiciary and they have financed the executive power,» she said.

Photo: Francisco Kelvim / MAB

Salabert also said that many communities are hostage to mining companies that preach an ideology that Minas Gerais is intrinsically dependent on mining. «Mining represents 4% of the state’s GDP. Does 4% pay for the death of two rivers? Four per cent does not pay for the death of two rivers, it does not pay for the death of hundreds of people, it does not pay for the death of our biodiversity, the pollution of aquifers. It does not pay for the suffering and the suicides that have been caused by these crimes. Therefore, we will demand not only justice, but also the diversification of our economic model».

For Joelísia Feitosa, affected in Joatuba, in the Paraopeba basin, the neighbours have been neglected for four years. «We had an agreement made by the mining company without the government that does not have the centrality of those affected. Now we want to play a leading role. First of all, we want justice to be done, we want Vale to be punished and we want this punishment to serve as a lesson so that the crime is not repeated, because 272 lives were lost. And today we suffer from water insecurity and health problems,» said this community member.

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