MAB Note | Doce River Basin: 6 years later, the affected people continue to fight for justice

Six years after the Samarco’s dam, controlled by Vale and BHP Billiton, ruptured in Mariana (MG), the people affected demanded the construction of devastated houses, the removal of the tailings from the rivers and the criminal accountability of those involved.

District of Paracatu, in Mariana (MG), destroyed by Samarco’s tailings. Photo: Mídia Ninja Collection

In the resettlement of Bento Rodrigues, only 10 houses of 244 were completed after almost 6 years. There is no deadline for a conclusion. The removal of the tailings from the affected areas has not been done, and the communities are living with it, without any guidance or cautions. Of the 21 people criminally denounced by the Federal Prosecution Service (MPF), only five are still in the lawsuit that is investigating the deaths, flood and environmental crimes.

On November 5, 2021, it will be 6 years since the collapse of the Fundão tailings dam owned by Samarco Mineração S.A., controlled by Vale and BHP Billiton, the two largest mining companies in the world in the production of iron ore.

This rupture spread 48.3 million cubic meters of mud into nature, which covered about 650 km between Mariana (MG) and the mouth of the Doce River, in the town of Regência, municipality of Linhares (ES), spreading to several communities north and south of the mouth, contaminating much of the coast of Espírito Santo. It reached, by sequence, the Santarém stream, the Gualaxo do Norte river, the Carmo river, and 100% of the Doce River.

The Movement of People Affected by Dams (MAB), on this date, denounces that Vale continues with the whole process in its hands, even benefiting from the action of the Brazilian Judiciary. Despite the gravity of the situation, it has already taken more than 2,000 days without compensating the affected people. The impunity is evident. In the region, profit was placed above life. The crime “renews” itself daily in places where the mud of injustice passes.

Companies close the door to repair

Despite the payment in cash to thousands of affected people through the Simplified Compensation System (Novel), after almost 6 years, the clauses of the Transaction and Conduct Adjustment Agreement (TTAC) from  2016  have not been fully executed. Of the 42 programs designed for reparation, only 4 are in more advanced execution, in which there is a greater expenditure of resources. These are a) the registration of those affected; b) the compensation program; c) the program for the payment of emergency financial assistance; d) the program for the reconstruction of villages.

Even so, there are still, at least, 60,000 registrations unfinished, which could mean, approximately, 200,000 people waiting to have access to reparation. To “solve” the issue, the Federal Court disfigured the role of the technical advisory, which would have the task of following up on this process, including its complete revision to correctly update the damage records. Instead, a judicial expert connected to the financial market and without any knowledge of the social reality of the Basin was put in charge of reviewing the records. How to make integral and fair reparation if the entrance door is closed for the majority of the affected people?

Water and health: rights that money cannot pay for

Mud tailings reaching the sea in Regência (ES). Photo: Mídia Ninja Collection

Until today, there are several communities with difficulty in accessing water. Many homes receive poor quality water, coming from artesian wells drilled by the Renova Foundation that have odor and coloring. The Federal Court recently recognized the so-called “water damage”. It is R$ 2,000 per day due to the non-supplying that results from the tailings in the river, but this does not solve the deep problem that has to do with the quality and confidence in what reaches the taps of thousands of people.

Since the tailings have not been removed from the affected areas, the communities are living with it without any guidance or cautions. Over the years, without any response or guidance from the Renova Foundation, people have gone back to using most of the affected areas around the rivers for planting and grazing. The recovery of the river is an important demand from those affected along the basin so that they can again use it as a source of income, food, and leisure. However, there is no clear plan to make this happen, with established deadlines and safety for the affected families.

As a result, there are several health problems still being reported by the population, mainly respiratory and skin allergies. For these people, there is no action by the Renova Foundation to solve the problem. The affected municipalities of the Doce River Basin have prepared health action plans since 2019, but only 2 (from Mariana and Barra Longa) have been approved by the Renova Foundation so that it can cover its costs. Likewise, there is no continuity of health impact studies by Renova, which has already been subject to fines for non-compliance with the agreement.

Housing and technical assistance: denial of what is basic

As for the reconstruction of the affected communities, there is a series of missed deadlines, several of them set by the company itself or by court decision. The last of these stated that by February 2021, the three resettlements proposed in the reparation plan should have been built. The Gesteira and Paracatu de Baixo resettlements do not have any of the 100 houses promised. In the resettlement of Bento Rodrigues, only 10 houses of the 244 were completed after almost 6 years. There is no deadline for the conclusion of the works.

In this context, the compensation reached almost 50 thousand people by Novel, but the cost was to force the affected people to give up their rights as “legal security” to the mining companies, such as the emergency financial aid, and to sign a general discharge of damages. At the same time, the way the Novel was implemented practically ended the entire system of organized collective participation and centralized the referral to the individual, who now transfers the leading role to private lawyers, some of them becoming multimillionaires. Thus, an environment was created to demobilize both legally and politically the right to independent technical assistance. And that is what the courts have done.

Only Mariana, Barra Longa, Rio Doce, and Santa Cruz do Escalvado had the right to technical advice guaranteed. The others, from the more than 40 municipalities affected, were neglected. On October 4th, the Federal Court, granting almost all the requests made by the companies, put an end to the concept and the initial objective of the technical advisory, forbidding almost all the technical tasks initially foreseen, which are rights already won. In the decision, there are at least 12 prohibitions and impediments to the work of the teams. And any study requested by the community will only be done if the Judge authorizes it after consulting the mining companies in the process.

To make matters worse, the court wants to make it difficult for the chosen entities to work face-to-face with the communities. According to the decision “the Technical Advisors must PRIORITIZE the use of virtual means of communication (digital platforms, virtual magazines, “lives”, Youtube, Whatsapp), REDUCING AND/OR EXCLUDING, the use of physical communication instruments”.

What is this Justice that gives with one hand and takes away with the other? A Justice that facilitates individual payment in cash, at the same time that dismantles an entire collective process, hinders independent studies, criminalizes social movements, spreads unfounded suspicion in non-profit entities recognized for their work with those affected by dams, and strengthens the position of the mining companies in the Basin.

Six years later, we are still fighting for Justice!

We demand that the National Council of Justice (CNJ) demonstrate that it wants to make justice work for the interests of the victims and not the criminals. The re-negotiation table for a new “definitive” agreement between governments and companies, which is in progress with the involvement of several institutions, must truly welcome those affected or it will be just another space for media coverage of an initiative that will have no objective result for the repair of the collective damage in the Basin, only strengthen the interests of the mining companies. Online Public Hearing is not participation. We want to participate by deciding concepts and policies and having the right to independent monitoring instruments, studies and data collection.

Based on this premise, we propose the following actions:

  1. Right to Independent Technical Assistance, as per the agreement signed in 2017.
  2. Modifications to NOVEL, ending the final discharge, and the closing of the registry.
  3. Fund for collective projects of the affected people.
  4. Social fund for those affected by dams in MG and ES.
  5. Income Transfer Program to combat poverty aggravated by the bursting of the dam over the years.
  6. New Governance, less bureaucratic and closer to the territories.
  7. Priority actions for women and the black population affected.
  8. Continuity of environmental studies and not finalizing the environmental agenda in this agreement.
  9. The value of the agreement should be based on the R$ 155 billion value of the initial lawsuit filed by the Federal Prosecution Service (MPF).
  10.  Achievements and advances in the Brumadinho agreement as a starting point for negotiations.

3 years after Brumadinho

The district of brumadinho covered by the mud of the Vale

This year, we walk in solidarity and organization with the Paraopeba Basin and with those affected by the crime in Brumadinho, which, on January 25, 2022, will complete 3 years. Our struggles are the same. Our agendas pursue the same objective and the violators of our rights act in the same way. We share the drama of seeing justice leave unpunished those responsible for more than 290 deaths in the two crimes. In the Doce River, from the action of the 21 people criminally denounced by the Federal Prosecution Service (MPF), only 5 are still in the lawsuit that investigates the deaths, flood and environmental crimes. The Federal Court understood that the 19 deaths in 2015 were not homicide.

In the meantime, in Paraopeba, the Superior Court of Justice (STJ), accepted the bureaucratic argument of the defense that the tragedy affected archeological sites, which are the responsibility of the Union. Therefore, the legal jurisdiction changes, and the indictment go back to square one.

We are the victims of barbaric crimes that are far from a correct solution and also of a Justice that is at the service of those for whom crime pays. Today, more than victims, we are also people in a struggle willing to put life above profit. With our heads held high, we will continue mobilizing, in another year, to denounce the violence of large corporations, impunity, and the complicity of governments and the Judiciary.

We announce here, affected people from the Paraopeba and Doce Rivers basins and the Espírito Santo coast that we will continue marching and fighting until our region stops suffering from the “curse of abundance” of water, minerals, land and oil. Until our wealth are shared among us, the Brazilian people, so that no child of ours will wake up without knowing if he or she will have food or education, until we are a sovereign, independent, and a popularly controlled country capable of guaranteeing all rights and full reparations to all.

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