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Brazil: Standing Against Mining in Gandarela

Vale S.A. is the second largest mining corporation in the world and Brazil’s biggest and most controversial private company. To the point that past April, the 1st ‘Hit by Vale’ International Meeting was held in Rio de Janeiro this year. Among the many cases in which communities point the finger at Vale for environmental damage, is that of Project Apolo, an iron mining enterprise in a mountain range that environmentalists demand must be preserved. According to Santa Bárbara Environmental Group‘s blog [PT]:

A Serra do Gandarela representa uma área de corredor ecológico e tem inquestionável riqueza hídrica, paleontológica, arqueológica e também de flora e fauna. Se não fosse assim, ela não estaria figurada em área de preservação permanente de acordo com a legislação ambiental, como de alta relevância no zoneamento ecológico econômico (ZEE), e região prioritária no documento do Instituto Estadual de Florestas de Minas Gerais.

Gandarela Mountain Range represents an ecological corridor area that has unquestionable hydric, paleontological and archaeological richness, as well as of flora and fauna. If it wasn’t so, the region wouldn’t appear in an area of permanent preservation in accordance to the environmental legislation, as being highly relevant to the economic ecological zone division and a main region on the documents pertaining to the State Institute for the Minas Gerais forests.

http://serradagandarela.blogspot.com

The ‘Hit by Vale’ encounter in Rio, produced a report published on the movement's blog, which compiled all “impacts and violations by Vale around the world” [PT]. Pages 35 and 36 tell the story of Vale in the Gandarela region:

A Vale realiza em Gandarela, a extração de minério de ferro. Em 2008 sua capacidade produtiva foi ampliada com a compra da Mineração Apolo, que elevou em quase 1 bilhão de toneladas as reservas de minério de ferro da empresa no chamado Quadrilátero Ferrífero, em Minas Gerais. O plano da Vale é unir o potencial da Apolo com os recursos do Projeto Gandarela. Com a compra da Apolo, os recursos de Gandarela passarão de cerca de 4 bilhões para 5 bilhões de toneladas de minério de ferro. O Projeto Apolo consistiu na abertura de uma mina com capacidade de produção de 24 milhões de toneladas de minério de ferro por ano e implantação de uma usina de beneficiamento da matéria-prima nos municípios de Caeté e Santa Bárbara, na Região Central do estado.

Vale extracts iron from Gandarela. In 2008 its productive ability grew with the purchase of the Apolo Mine, increasing the iron mining reserves of the state’s so called ferriferous quadrilateral, in nearly 1 billion tons. Vale’s plan is to unite Apolo’s potential with Gandarela’s Project resources. With Apolo’s purchase, Gandarela resources will grow from 4 billion to 5 billion tons of iron ore. Apolo Project consisted in opening a mine with productive capacity for 24 million tons of iron ore per year, and building a plant to make use of raw materials in the districts of Caeté and Santa Bárbara, in the state’s central region.

Against the projects are environmental groups and local communities, who accuse Vale of lack of transparency and misuse of the region’s water resources’ when enumerating some of the irregularities and impacts of the project:

Questionamentos das comunidades não foram respondidos pela empresa nas reuniões já realizadas. Mau uso dos recursos hídricos superficiais e subterrâneos de abastecimento público. Interferência na qualidade das águas locais. Construção do ramal ferroviário que impactará Área de Proteção Ambiental Municipal (APA Juca Vieira, de Caeté), com possível drenagem de águas pelos túneis com construção prevista.

Questions by communities were not answered by the company in the meetings held. Misuse of the superficial and underground hydric resources that serve the public. Interference in the quality of local water. Construction of a railroad that will impact the environmental protection of the district area, with the possibility of water draining in to the tunnels that are to be built.

And while the report goes on to describe that such water misuse can damage beyond local communities into the state’s capital Belo Horizonte, local environmental groups such as Manuelzão Project from the city’s Federal University and the Santa Bárbara Environmental Group call for the creation of a National Park in the area, to further the protection of its natural resources.

Serra da Gandarela blog, also addresses the water and environmental issues, but expands responding to statements that mining is good for local communities because it provides jobs:

O que está cada vez mais claro em Minas Gerais, segundo alguns estudiosos do assunto, é que nem sempre o desenvolvimento que a mineração traz é um desenvolvimento sustentável. Cidades inteiras como Itabira são dependentes da exploração mineral, e quando a mina se esgota, a cidade, que se tornou mono-industrial, não tem alternativa de sobrevivência.

What has became clear in Minas Gerais, according to some studies, is that mining doesn’t always bring sustainable development. Entire cities like Itabira are dependent on mineral exploitation and when the mines are emptied, the city, which became mono-industrial, have no other means to survive. To the problem of ‘mono-industrial’ cities, dependent of one sole company, add pollution and low financial return to the city hosting the mining industry. The royaltie charged from these companies for the benefit of local councils is ridiculous when compared to the environmental and social costs derived from mining.

http://www.aguasdogandarela.org/forum/topics/informacao-potencial

And indeed, Vale S.A. has been pointed the finger too many times, both for environmental damage and worker’s rights infringement:

No Canadá, onde a Vale comprou a mineradora Inco, cerca de três mil trabalhadores da empresa estão em greve há mais de nove meses. “Nunca vimos uma companhia tão arrogante e completamente desonesta com seus empregados e comunidade como a Vale”, disse Leo W. Gerard, presidente internacional do United Steelworkers, sindicato de mineiros do Canadá e EUA. Essa postura desrespeitosa é observada em diversas ações protagonizadas pela Vale. Em torno das violações de direitos humanos cometidas pela Vale, estão reunidos, por exemplo, trabalhadores rurais do Pará e do Maranhão, pescadores de Sepetiba, no Rio de Janeiro, ambientalistas de Minas Gerais e do Chile, comunidades tradicionais de Moçambique, indígenas do Peru e do pequeno arquipélago de Nova Caledônia, no Pacífico.

In Canada where Vale bought Inco mining company, around 3000 workers are on strike for the past nine months. “We never saw such an arrogant and so completely dishonest company in regards to its employees and locals communities.”, said Leo W. Gerard, international president of United Steelworkers, a mining union from Canadá and the US. The same disrespectful posture is observed in various of Vale’s actions. Concerning human rights violations committed by Vale, there are as examples, the rural workers in the Brazilian states of Pará and Maranhão, the fishermen from Sepetiba, in the state of Rio de Janeiro, the environmentalists of Minas Gerais and Chile, traditional communities in Mozambique, indigenous people in Peru and in the small archipel of New Caledonia in the Pacific.

As for Serra da Gandaleira, six public audiences on and it appears that the impasse will continue.Vale S.A. presents figures but twitters like Cássio Martinho wonder:

Vale diz q investirá 4 bilhões para extrair minério de ferro por 17 anos. Quanto vale um parque nacional? E a Mata Atlântica?9:37 AM Jun 15th via web

Vale says it will invest 4 billion to extract iron for 17 years. How much is a national park? And the Atlantric Rainforest?

Serra do Gandarela é uma enorme porção de Mata Atlântica e águas na região metropolitana de BH. Contra a mina, queremos parque nacional.9:34 AM Jun 15th via web

Serra do Gandarela has an enormous part of the Atlantic Rainforest and the waters in the metropolitan region of Belo Horizonte. Against the mine, we want a national park

Ontem à noite, audiência pública s/ mineração na Serra do Gandarela estava lotada. Mais uma disputa entre a Vale e comunidades de montanha. 9:33 AM Jun 15th via web

Last night, the public audience about mining in the Serra da Gandarela was full. Another dispute between Vale and mountain people.

A dispute that is to be continued. On one side Vale who doesn’t give up the mine, on the other environmentalists demanding a national park. While they don’t get it, mining continues and Serra da Gandarela is running out of time.

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