"It's a massacre. The powerful use everything they have to massacre the people. And I have no second thoughts about denouncing this. Because it's really rotten." The farmer Lúcio da Silva Pimenta, 51, summarizes the situation of his community, called Mumbuca, and many others in Conceição do Mato Dentro, in the central region of Minas Gerais. They are all victims of the Minas-Rio project, one of the largest mining projects in the world.
He and four other affected people, who represent a part of the hundreds of people affected by the mining company since 2007, have sought, through a popular action, to cancel a public hearing, organized by the mining company Anglo American. It would deal with the expansion of the Sapo Mine, which is the third step of the Minas-Rio project. The hearing was scheduled to take place last April 11th.
However, the communities claimed that there was almost no information available about the project, and that it was only made available a few days before the hearing. Without access to the project, community leaders argued that they would not have the time nor the resources to elaborate their critiques. This action was enough to trigger the start of threats and attacks the next day.
Lúcio, who was expelled several times from his own land, currently lives alone in a shed near the road. Till this day, he has not received any due compensation. At night, he hides in the woods to sleep, because he is afraid of what could happen to him.
Representatives of the State Public Ministry (MPE) and the Federal Public Ministry (MPF), met with the authors of the action to listen to the denunciations regarding the threats. According to the district attorney of Conceição do Mato Dentro, Marcelo Mata Machado, the MPE requested the inclusion of the leaders in the Program for Protection of Human Rights Defenders. They also started a Criminal Investigation Procedure at the Office of the Attorney General to determine the "authorship and materiality of the threats" .
A hearing with the Human Rights Commission of the Legislative Assembly of Minas Gerais (ALMG) is also scheduled for Wednesday (May 24th).
Anglo American is responsible for the Minas-Rio project. The extraction of iron ore starts in Conceição do Mato Dentro and then the project continuous to cut through 32 cities and 525 km until it arrives in Porto Açu, in São João da Barra, Rio de Janeiro. The project was designed and initiated by MMX, a company from the businessman Eike Batista, who has been under house arrest since April 30 for corruption. In 2008, Anglo American bought MMX for R$ 5.5 billion (USD 1.7 billion). In 2009, when it already owned the project, MMX obtained an installation license for the mine area and the tailings dam.
Despite having documents that prove that he is the owner of the land where he lived, Lúcio, like other relatives, was expelled several times and in various ways from his house, because of this project.The farmer was born on the same land as where his great-grandfathers settled years before. As a child, he swam in the thermal spring known as "Holy Water," he watched his relatives make baskets from taquara and help people from the region by donating wood to build houses.
When MMX started to buy land in the surroundings, information started to spread that a big mine would be installed in the region.
The farmer recalls that he was even thrilled at the prospect of new jobs being created and perhaps improvements to the community would be made. But instead, he witnessed the expulsion of family members from their lands, the closing of roads, the isolation of communities, the drying of springs and the end of various local traditions and customs.
Recently, he received a notice that he would have 15 days to leave his land, as it was supposedly in the area of "mining easement", that is, in Anglo American's area of interest.
The mining company already requested a Preliminary License and an Installation License to begin the expansion of the pit, which will reach 12 kilometers. The expectation is that the project will last 28 years.
Vanessa Rosa Santos, co-author of the same class action, received an apocryphal note at home, with the words "We already know. It was you. [You are] next". She was also harassed on the streets of the city and received threats from a landlord: "Do you have life insurance? You should get it".
Vanessa and her husband, Reginaldo Rosa dos Santos, also a co-author of the lawsuit, had to leave their home in the community of Cabeceira do Turco, because of the earth trembles caused by the slurry pipeline installed there. They used to breed fish, chickens, pigs, and plant vegetables and other crops. After verifying that the house had cracks and that it was trembling due to the pipeline, the company put them in a "social rental" program, which put them in an apartment in the city of Conceição do Mato Dentro.
The deal was meant to be for six months, but they have been renting the place for two years now, with no guarantee of continuity. "We never know what will happen next. It will never be the same as before. Only memories are left. But they have to release my life. They renew the contract every six months. The house is not mine, and I want something that is mine, just like what I had. I do not want to depend on the company, "says Vanessa.
In addition to being evicted from their home, Vanessa and Reginaldo lost their jobs after they began to report some of the consequences of the mining activity in the region. Reginaldo worked as an outsourced gas station operator for Anglo, and he was fired shortly after joining the social rental program. At the time, he heard from his boss that the company was going to "ask for his head". Vanessa used to work in a store and she suspects that she was fired after the shop made a partnership with the mining company.
Another co-author of the lawsuit, Elias Souza, was physically assaulted in front of his young children. It was not the first time. After the physical and psychological aggressions that happened in April, he had health problems and was hospitalized for some time in Belo Horizonte.
The fifth co-author of the action, Lúcio Guerra Junior, who for years has been leading the "Reaja" movement - Network for Articulation and Environmental Justice of the Affected by the Minas-Rio Project of Anglo American, received numerous threats in WhatsApp groups.
The day after the judge's decision to accept the action and to suspend the holding of the public hearing, Junior received calls from an alleged funeral company.
Contacted by the reporter to comment on the allegations, the press office of Anglo American replied by e-mail, saying it "is severely against violence in any way and that it has no connection to the threats mentioned above."
Edition: Camila Rodrigues da Silva | Tradução: Merel van der Mark