Criminal responsibility

“30 versus 3”: the unequal battle between Vale and the people affected by its dams

Miner uses its financial powers to hire huge legal teams to fight the victims of its activities in Brazil

Leia em português | Brasil de Fato | Brasília

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A building destroyed by a Vale dam disaster; the miner hires high-profile law firms and consultants, including former Supreme Court justices / José Eduardo Bernardes

The communities impacted by the collapse of Vale dams are fighting an unequal battle in negotiations and lawsuits filed after the Mariana and Brumadinho episodes, in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais.

Organizations supporting the victims report that the mining giant is using its huge financial powers to hire an army of lawyers to swamp the significantly smaller number of counselors that public institutions are able to make available for the victims.

In addition to having its own in-house legal team, Vale has also hired big law firms and high-profile consultants, including two former Supreme Court justices: Ellen Gracie and Joaquim Barbosa.

::Beyond Mariana and Brumadinho: Vale's long history of violations::

Tchenna Maso, a member of the coordination of the Movement of People Affected by Dams (MAB), said that neither of the two retired justices has worked on cases directly as lawyers or signing petitions, for example, but both have issued opinions and written reports for the company in lawsuits, including a criminal case in which company executives were being investigated for homicide. Based on this report, a habeas corpus petition originally filed for one person was extended to more individuals. 

The MAB activist also says that about 30 or 40 Vale lawyers usually take part in the negotiations between the company and the victims, while the Federal Prosecution Service and the Public Defender’s Office only have three professionals exclusively dedicated to representing the people affected by the miner’s dams.

“You have a negotiation with 40 company lawyers on one side and the other with the people affected with few councilors from public institutions. Just imagine how these negotiations go,” she argues.

::Vale harasses locals in Brumadinho village to manage toxic waste after dam burst::

Maso also adds that Vale’s powerful legal influence is beyond just the number of lawyers it hires.

The company, the activist says, offers its own interns to the Minas Gerais court of appeals, arguing that there is a lot of work to do due to the collapse of dams. Also, it’s not uncommon to have judges holding preliminary hearings between the company and the victims at the offices of the Renova Foundation, established by Vale to handle these cases.

Edition: Rodrigo Chagas