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Documentary: Mining's Terrible Consequences for Brazil's People and Environment

[All links lead to Portuguese-language pages except when otherwise noted.]

On the eve of Brazil's vote regarding the country's new Mining Code, a documentary produced by the media collective Mídia NINJA in partnership with the National Committee in Defense of Territories Impacted by Mining appeared to bring the life of communities near the mining regions of the country to the discussion.

“Enquanto o trem não passa” (While the train doesn't pass) was shown at the beginning of a public audience that took place on December 5, 2013 in the Brazilian Senate, and the film served as an “instrument of discussion” of the theme. The synopsis of the film on Youtube reads:

O objetivo da produção é alertar quem vive fora das áreas de atuação das mineradoras sobre o enorme impacto dessa atividade e o quanto o novo código proposto pelo Governo não traz salvaguardas sócio-ambientais, garantias ao meio ambiente e nem segurança aos quilombolas e povos indígenas.

The objective of the production is to alert those who live outside the area of the mining operations of the enormous impact of this activity, and how the new code proposed by the government will not bring socio-environmental safeguards, measures to protect the environment, nor safety for the quilombolas and indigenous peoples.

Watch the video below with English and Spanish subtitles:

During the meeting, Senator João Capiberibe announced that the vote on the Code, set for December 10, has been moved to 2014. According to him, the goal is to give more time so that changes – such as the consequences that mining represents for the environment and the communities – can be added to the text. Capiberibe declared:

Queremos uma legislação que contemple a todos. É claro que não vamos impedir a atividade econômica. Mas o que é inaceitável é que, em nome do desenvolvimento, se desrespeite direitos legítimos dessas comunidades.

We want a law that has everyone in mind. It is clear that we are not going to impede economic activity. But what is unacceptable is that, in the name of development, the legitimate rights of these communities are disrespected.

In an open letter published in March, the National Conference of Bishops in Brazil (CNBB) [en], one of the integral movements of the National Committee in Defense of Territories Impacted by Mining, spoke out against the problem:

A mineração em terras indígenas é outra grave preocupação suscitada pelo Projeto de Lei 1.610/96, tramitando no Congresso sem nenhuma interação com o Estatuto dos Povos Indígenas, que espera aprovação desde 1991. O Projeto de Lei 1.610/96 desrespeita totalmente a autonomia dos povos indígenas sobre seus territórios, assegurada pela Constituição Federal e pela Convenção 169 da Organização Internacional do Trabalho, da qual o Brasil é signatário. As mesmas ameaças recaem sobre comunidades quilombolas, populações tradicionais, pequenos agricultores e áreas de proteção ambiental.

Mining in indigenous territories is another grave concern evoked by Bill 1.610/96, and the bill was sent to Congress without any kind of interaction with the Statute of Indigenous Peoples, which has been waiting for approval since 1991. Bill 1.610/96 completely disrespects the autonomy of the indigenous in their own territories, guaranteed by the Federal Constitution and by the 169th Convention of the International Labor Organization, of which Brazil is a signatory.

An inconvenient truth

Brazil emerged on the modern maps of the world as a land of extraction, and since the first years of colonization, has had mining [en] as one of its primary sources of economy. Currently, 4 percent of the world's ore is extracted from Brazilian soil. In 2012, production was estimated at 55 billion US dollars, 900 percent more than the country produced ten years ago. The National Mining Plan, which reviews projects in the sector for the next 20 years, seeks to triple the country's production. 

While the new law makes its way through legislation, mining companies already have a shovel in the dirt. Vale S.A. [en], the second largest mining company in the world and the main active mining company in the country, was elected by the Public Eye Awards [en] last year as the worst business in the world [en] due to the impact of its activities. In addition, some Canadian companies are already in the country as well, one of them working for the reopening of Serra Pelada, in the state of Pará, for the extraction of nearly 40 tons of gold. More than 500 years after the arrival of the Portuguese, mining continues to be an open wound on Tupiniquim soil.

The photo featured in this aricle was taken from the Facebook of Mídia Ninja. The album A mineração pra quem vê de perto (Mining from Up Close) includes photos from the production of the documentary and from the team that came together to investigate and exhibit these stories.

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