A Canadian Company Is Set to Construct Brazil's Largest Open-Pit Gold Mine鈥攊n the Heart of the Amazon

by GlobalVoices traducido por Taisa Sganzerla translated by Taisa SganzerlaApril 5, 2017

A Canadian company is planning to build the聽soon-to-be largest open-pit聽gold mine in Brazil, located in the heart of the Amazon forest on the banks of the Xingu river. Brazilian activists, NGOs and advocacy groups, however, are waging聽a legal battle over the land.

Belo Sun Mining Corp., which is headquartered in Toronto, is behind the Volta Grande Gold聽Project, which plans to extract 600聽tons of gold over the course of 12聽years. The mine will generate聽toxic waste two-fold the volume聽of Rio de Janeiro's Sugarloaf mountain. A community of 300 families, who live off the land in Vila da Ressaca, Galo and Ouro Verde villages, will have to be relocated should the project go forward.

The company, which聽began researching聽the area in 2008, secured permission in early February from the Par谩 state government to begin construction, but on February 22 a聽state court suspended that聽permission for 180 days by upholding a suit聽filed by Par谩's聽public defender's office.

In the ruling, judge 脕lvaro Jos茅 da Silva Souza says he聽will refer the case to the federal public prosecutor's office to conduct an investigation into聽whether the company engaged in land grabbing when it聽purchased聽federal public lands. The lands in question, Vila da Ressaca, Galo and Ouro Verde, make up an area called聽Ituna, which was destined in the 1980s by the federal government for the use of rural people in the context of agrarian reform.

The ruling also states that in the last three years, from the issuing of a聽preliminary permit in 2014 and up through the recent granting of a聽construction permit, the company did nothing to relocate the聽affected riverland peoples in a dignified way. 鈥淚 understand it to be聽completely absurd and unjustifiable that聽currently聽the families are still at the mercy of聽their own luck,鈥 the judge's decision reads. The聽ruling gave the company 180 days to devise a plan to relocate the families and requires the company in the meantime to ensure the families鈥 access to the lands in question.

The location of the proposed mine has already been severely affected聽by an unrelated development project, the Belo Monte hydropower聽dam, which started its testing phase in late 2015. The dam has reduced the water flow of a聽100-kilometer stretch of the Xingu River by聽80%, in addition to聽having killed off fish, worsened water quality and drastically changed the way of life of many indigenous and riverland聽populations since its construction began in 2011.

Environmental fears surround the Belo Sun's gold-mining project, given the recent tragedy near Mariana in the state of Minas Gerais. In November 2015, a dam burst at a mine belonging to Samarco 鈥 a joint venture of mining companies BHP and Vale 鈥 and poured billions聽of liters聽of waste in the Doce River, killing 19 people and leaving 700 homeless.

A technical note聽issued by Belo Sun in 2012, which addressed concerns brought about聽in a public hearing, was conducted聽by the same聽engineer who聽had attested to the聽safety of the Mariana dam four months before it burst.聽In November 2016, he, along with 20 other executives, was indicted for homicide by聽a federal court.

Consultations of indigenous communities

The indigenous communities directly affected by the Volta Grande Gold Project聽have not been consulted as is provided for in the 169 Convention of the International Labor Organization, of which Brazil is a signatory.

Six days after the issuing of the construction permit in early February, the mining company published on its website, only in English, a detailed exploration plan聽that encompasses 120 kilometres throughout the Xingu River. If聽the company were to implement聽the plan, at least four officially designated Indigenous Lands (Terras Ind铆genas) would be affected: Paqui莽amba, of the Juruna people;聽Ituna/Itata, where isolated indigenous peoples live;聽Arara da Volta Grande, of the Arara; and Trincheira Bacaj谩, of the Xicrin peoples. Brazilian legislation states that constructions permits in this area should be done at the federal level聽(rather than by Par谩 state government) because it directly affects indigenous lands.

Belo Sun published on their website a map with their planned activities, without showing the adjacent indigenous lands. Instituto Socioambiental produced this map that does.

As of now, there hasn't been any consultation of聽the peoples that could be impacted if the project moves forward. 鈥淔rom the way it聽is on the map, it looks like there are no indigenous peoples there. For Belo Sun there is no one there,鈥 says Mukuka Xicrin, a leader of the Xincrin people.

The permit granted by Par谩 state in February also bypassed a motion聽issued by Brazil's public authority on indigenous matters (the National Indigenous Foundation, or FUNAI), which demands reassessment of the impact on indigenous peoples and considers a聽study聽presented by Belo Sun聽to be insufficient.

Both federal and state聽public defender's offices filed a suit to halt the permit, with the latter's suit being upheld by the state court. The federal prosecutor's office also filed a motion directed at Par谩's environmental agency聽recommending against the permit. The prosecutor's office had already filed two other suits against the project in the past.

This article is a compilation of two stories by Instituto Socioambiental, a Brazilian NGO that defends environmental and indigenous rights. It was edited into one and is published on Global Voices. It has been re-published on IC under a Creative Commons License.