Brazil: Still no justice one year after Mariana mining disaster

October 31, 2016

One year ago, Brazil experienced the worst environmental disaster in its history, when a tailings dam collapsed at the Mariana iron ore mining site in the state of Minas Gerais, dumping millions of tonnes of mud and toxins into the Rio Doce River. The ensuing mudslides caused the deaths of 19 people, swept away houses, livestock and family farms from nearby communities, contaminated water sources and essentially destroyed 800km of the Rio Doce River, from Mariana to the coast of the state of Espirito Santo. For the local villagers, most of whom are fisherfolks, this disaster was catastrophic. In addition to the damaged sustained to their homes, fish stocks began to die off, stripping them of their source of income.

In the time since the disaster, affected communities have seen little action by the Samarco mining company, a joint venture between mining giants Vale and BHP Billiton, to compensate families for the horrific damages or to pay the clean-up costs. Reports revealed that the company was aware that the dam was weak at the time of the breach, and although local and national government agencies have fined the company, Samarco is appealing and has yet to pay.

Development and Peace – Caritas Canada partner The Movement of People Affected by Dams (MAB) has been supporting the people of Mariana in denouncing the impunity of the company. To honour victims and bring attention to the devastating impacts of mining activities, the MAB is organizing (along with many other social movements, NGOs and social pastorals, many of them Development and Peace partners) a caravan that will retrace the flood route from its end point to its source. The caravan will bring together various organizations, activists and academics who want to show their solidarity with the people of Mariana and call for swift and effective action, not only in Mariana, but in all of Brazil, where the reckless exploitation of natural resources (including minerals) has been destructive of the environment, and has displaced and impoverished peasants and indigenous communities as well as urban citizens.

In addition to the MAB, several of Development and Peace’s partners will be participating in the caravan, including the Landless Peasant Movement (MST), Justiça nos Trilhos, which works with communities affected by Vale mines, FASE, which works with the urban and rural poor, and MAM, a movement of mine-affected communities, as well as Development and Peace Program Officer, Anne Catherine Kennedy. The caravan, which is expected to include hundreds of people, will begin on October 31st in Regência in the state of Espirito Santo, a fishing village where the released tailings flowed into the ocean, and end on November 2th in Mariana, where the dam collapsed.

The caravan will be followed by a 2-day seminar where an estimated 1,000 people will gather to discuss the underlying causes of the disaster, the lack of responsibility assumed by the company, which wants to re-open the mine, and the current situation of those affected. November 5th, which is the actual anniversary of the disaster, will be marked by a protest in Bento Rodrigues, a district of Mariana that vanished in the mudslide.

Be in solidarity with the people of Mariana and our partners in Brazil by following the caravan on twitter@devpeace, #1anodelama, #1anodeluta (which in Portuguese means 1yearofmud, 1yearofstruggle)