Seven years of Mariana’s tragedy: a thunderous ‘siren’ that did not prevent the same from happening, three years later, in Brumadinho

The two biggest environmental and human tragedies in Brazil remain without justice. Nevertheless, relatives of the victims and those affected continue to denounce the negligence and demand justice and changes of mining laws. In October, the voice of victims’ representatives reached important human rights events in Europe

Completing 7 years, on November 5, 2022, the tragedy of Mariana still faces delays and controversies in the process of compensation and reconstruction of the villages of Bento Rodrigues and Paracatu de Baixo. Both municipalities were totally devastated by the tailings mud that formed with the rupture of the Fundão dam, owned by Samarco, Vale and BHP Billiton, companies whose responsible executives remain unpunished.

What happened in Mariana, killing 19 people and 1 unborn child and polluting the waters of  Doce River, which reached the Atlantic Ocean dirty with ore tailings mud, has become the biggest environmental disaster in Brazil. But it was not enough to serve as a “warning siren” to prevent further tragedies. Just over three years later, the B1 dam at the Córrego do Feijão Mine in Brumadinho also failed, killing 270 people and 2 unborn children and contaminating the Paraopeba River. Despite the knowledge of the imminent danger on the part of executives from Vale and from the German certification company Tüv Süd, both companies did nothing to prevent (according to official investigations by the federal police and the Public Ministry) what became the biggest human disaster in Brazil and the biggest industrial tragedy of the 21st century.

These criminal tragedies made Brazil the country with the highest number of deaths in this type of disaster. In order to echo around the world that there was a lot of negligence involved in these events, and demand the punishment of those responsible, in 2022 AVABRUM (Association of Families of Victims and0 Affected by the Breach of the Córrego do Feijão Mine Dam in Brumadinho) has intensified its communication actions, with the help of the Legado de Brumadinho Project* and partners, such as Renser (Nossa Senhora do Rosário Episcopal Region), the Penal Observatory and the Cordilheira Institute.

A voice in Europe

During the month of October, lawyer Danilo Chammas, president of Cordilheira Institute, and the organization’s project coordinator, Carolina de Moura Campos, were in Europe, bringing the voice of AVABRUM to important strongholds that promote social well-being, defense of human rights and the preservation of the environment.

On October 10, Danilo and Carolina attended a session at the European Parliament’s Human Rights Commission in Belgium, in which they paid tribute to the 272 victims of Brumadinho, with a banner with photos of loved ones extended at the meeting place. In their presentations, Chammas and Carolina denounced the social, environmental and human rights violations caused by the dam collapses in Mariana and Brumadinho, as well as other mining ventures in Minas Gerais.

“In Minas Gerais there are dozens of mining complexes with hundreds of tailings dams. And these dams have become a terror. The lives in our cities were brutally crossed by the irresponsibility of the second largest mining company in the world, which is Vale. We appeal to you to evaluate the involvement of companies in the global north and governments in the entire value chain of the raw materials consumed. Not buying and not financing companies that violate rights, that jeopardize water security and that contribute to the worsening of the climate crisis”, said Carolina.

On October 18, in Berlin, Danilo Chammas participated in one of the main events dealing with raw material management in Europe, the Rohstoffgipfel Berlin ’22 (Berlin ’22 Raw Materials Summit). In the seminar “Compliance with Human Rights and Environmental Standards in Commodity Supply Chains”, Chammas stated: “We hoped that this case [Brumadinho] would be a watershed and, not being the first time, a lot could change. Unfortunately this is not the reality. We currently have around 40 tailings dams officially considered at risk in Brazil”.

Regarding society’s awareness of the chain involved in the mining industry, he said: “Here in Europe we know that there are authors involved in this chain, and it is very important that the authorities, the citizens, care about these issues. There are companies that buy this ore, that export it, that give environmental certificates and banks that finance it. In the case of Brumadinho, we have the direct involvement of the certifier Tüv Süd, which attested, a few months before the dam’s rupture, to the stability of the mine. Because of this, we are trying to hold the company accountable not only in Brazil, but also here in Germany”.

There are two lawsuits against Tüv Süd filed in Munich – the company’s headquarters city – by Brazilian offices, representing families of victims and those affected by the dam collapse. Both processes are in the evaluation phase of the German court, after pronouncements of the prosecution and defense.

The last event Danilo and Carolina attended in October in Europe was on the 24th, at the 8th session of the UN Binding Treaty, in Geneva, Switzerland. They were on the bench at the general oratory of CIDE (International Cooperation for Development and Solidarity), an international alliance of Catholic organizations.

Carolina made a point of remembering the 4 people who have not yet been found under the mud of ore tailings from Vale’s dam in Brumadinho, the brutal way in which the victims were killed and Vale’s negligence with their families after the incident: “It is clear to us that what you call Meaningful Stakeholder Engagement does not exist in our territory, where these mining companies operate. Because they lie, they mistreat us, and community relations agents, what they do is divide and persecute people. So it’s crystal clear that it’s critical that there must be binding laws, due diligence guidelines, and whatever else you can to put a cap on these companies.”

The board of AVABRUM stated “we are extremely grateful to Danilo Chammas and Carolina for bringing our voice, our banner of struggle for Justice, Meeting and Memory of the 272 lives taken by companies recognized worldwide among the largest mining companies in the world (Vale) and one of the largest certifiers in the world such as Tüv Süd, in these international events that talk about the defense of human rights and the preservation of the Environment. Life is the greatest good, and must be a priority over profits and all development. Lives cannot be repaired. We need to echo the whole criminal tragedy that began with the negligence of Vale and its employees in monitoring the risk of rupture of the B1 Dam, leaving a trail of destruction where the tailings sludge passed. Even after the Mariana dam disaster, they were permissive and allowed the tragedy in Brumadinho, even more aggressive with so many deaths and families destroyed. We need Mariana and Brumadinho to be examples of punishment within the scope of justice in mining alterations, and for investors to know that they are buying ore contaminated with blood, so that there is truly a change in this sector. Impunity makes crime recurrent.”

*Project carried out with resources allocated by the Collective Moral Damage Management Committee paid as social compensation for the rupture of the dam in Brumadinho, on 01/25/2019, which claimed 272 lives.