The Forest Turns To Dust
water Story 384

The Forest Turns To Dust

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John Ahni Schertow
December 23, 2011
 

The Forest Turns To Dust exposes the 30-year legacy of bauxite exploitation in the states of Pará and Maranhão, Brazil. The film, produced by Friends of the Earth Brazil, documents the chain of production, assesses the social and environmental impacts caused by the industry and reveals the threats to traditional peoples and workers in the industry, giving voice to those affected.

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Report by Bruna Engel, of the Núcleo Amigos da Terra Brazil (Friends of the Earth Brazil) and reproduced on the blog of Telma Monteiro on 15/12/2011.)

Violation of human rights and degradation of nature go hand in hand when the subject is territories occupied by mining corporations and aluminum production. As useful and adapted for modern ways of life, it is light, soft and tough, this metal hides a painful and degrading industrial process. The documentary, produced by Friends of the Earth Brazil and directed by André de Oliveira (Catharsis Collective- Coletivo Catarse), reveals cases of social and environmental destruction that is caused by transactional companies in the states of Pará and Maranhão, where more than 80% of bauxite exploitation is concentrated in Brazil.

Tracking all stages of the manufacturing process (bauxite mining, transport by pipeline, refining and reduction of alumina to obtain aluminum), the team of reporters expose several threats to the traditional peoples and industry workers, and gives voice to those affected . They are low-income rural populations and without assistance from public authorities – with the exception of the public defender attorneys of the Ministério Público Federal, which still requires compliance with laws and seeks to ensure the reparations for the peoples affected.

The majority of the communities, until the destruction begins, are unaware of the corporate strategies of insertion and appropriation of territories exercised by the mining companies, as well as their rights and the existing legislation governing the commerce sector in Brazil. Only after the damages are caused do they begin to organize and fight for better living conditions. The same occurs with the workers, who attracted by job opportunities do not realize they are being paid to get sick and have their employment. Life span reduced

The pressure of capital
With the overwhelming influx of industries, the mining region becomes economically dependent on the enterprise. The process prior to the mining, the expropriation and purchase of lands, generates real estate speculation thus inflating land values. This process incentivises small farmers to sell their land, seduced by the amounts offered (massive amounts in their reality, but far below the real estate market values), and swelling the peripheries of these small cities, with increased violence, prostitution, illiteracy, and other grave social problems.

When the companies install themselves in these areas there is fatal cessation of sustainable extraction activity of forest resources, because traditional sustainable extractivism and mining activities are mutually exclusive. Environmental degradation caused by the installation and operation of these factories also results in impacts on the local economy: the contamination of stream networks, lakes and rivers by red mud (toxic waste from the cleaning of bauxite) causes fish kills and destroys the possibility of artisanal fishing; air pollution; the fruit trees near the factories no longer produce fruit, the açaizais (acai, main source of income of rural families in the region) suffer from productivity collapse, as well as other traditional regional cultivars.

Hydroelectric dams and public financing
The aluminum production chain is electro-intensive, that is, it requires large amounts of electricity and water to be viable. For the expansion of aluminum production, the federal government has been promoting the construction of new dams in the Amazon, including Belo Monte, which will cede part of its energy to the electro-intensive industries. In addition to this, public sector banks such as the BNDES (Brazil’s National Bank for Social and Economic development), assumes a key role in fortifying the supply chain. The public financing, in addition to the reheating of the international market, spurred the expansion of the Alunorte / Albrás Alumar and CBA factories, including the financing of new refinery projects in Barcarena, the largest center of the industry sector, 50 km from Belém. These factories do not expand by themselves, they are accompanied by the opening of new mines, the construction of new hydroelectric dams and thermoelectric plants, duplication of railways, pipelines and so on. This is precisely the environmental degradation that is documented in this film report.

The power of money
The export by metallurgical industry, the most recent data being from 2009, accounted for 2.1% of Brazil’s trade balance. In turn, these exports influence the national GDP at 2%. Aluminum is one of the primary Brazilian commodities and the country is the 6th largest producer of the metal, behind China, Russia, Canada, Australia and the United States. Brazil has the third largest bauxite deposit in the world and is the fourth largest producer of aluminum oxide. Counting the entire chain, 26,074.4 metric tons of bauxite, aluminum oxide 8,625.1 metric tons and 1690 metric tons of aluminum were produced.

In terms of business, Brazilian production sees considerable loss in aggregate value, because it produces only primary materials, concentrating solely on the most environmentally aggressive processes. We export, at maximum [stage of production], aluminum ingots. When these arrive in other countries, for the next stages of transformation of the metal, the value of the aluminum is four times greater.

(*) The Friends of the Earth Brazil (Núcleo Amigos da Terra Brazil), in contact with local organizations and movements, was to record these conflicts with riparian [communities] to assess the social and environmental impacts caused by the aluminum industry since the 1980s in Brazil. For this purpose, technical visits were organized at least one site of each stage in the chain of production. This report documents the field research and reveals cases of threats to the traditional peoples and workers in the industry, giving voice to those affected.

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