Canadian mining group denounced in Brazil, denies wrongdoing
The Canadian-Brazilian mining company Belo Sun has been accused of committing omissions, illegalities, and intimidations against inhabitants of the Volta Grande do Xingu region in the Brazilian Amazon as part of its Volta Grande Project (PVG). Advocates also warn of possible environmental damages if the project moves forward.
These accusations were made in the report ‘Mina de Sangue’ (Blood Mine) published on June 29 by the NGO Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB) through its judicial branch. The people in this area have already been affected by the construction of the Belo Monte dam.
APIB writes that the PVG would cause distress to 25 traditional riverside communities, fishing communities in the Ilha da Fazenda, and the local villages Galo, Ouro Verde, and Ressaca, and also farming communities from which there are already 500 families relocated through the federal land reform program. It also believes that the Belo Sun project would damage the Indigenous communities of Kuruaya, Xikrin, Xipaya, Juruna, and Arara.
In a statement to The Media Co-op (published in full below) Belo Sun, which is backed by the Canadian investment bank Forbes & Manhattan, says that it has “reviewed the APIB's Mina de Sangue' (Blood Mine) report on its Volta Grande Project (PVG). Regrettably, the report contains factual errors and makes negative assumptions that misrepresent both the project and the way the company conducts business.” For the gold mining company, “These errors could have been avoided if APIB had been willing to discuss its conclusions with the Company before publishing its report.”
According to Belo Sun, the Juruna and Arara communities were already consulted and signed documents agreeing with the mining group enterprise. Belo Sun has shared with The Media Co-op handwritten letters from the Juruna and Arara people that are registered at the National Indigenous People Foundation (FUNAI).
APIB’s legal department coordinator and organizer of the report Maurício Terena claimed in a public statement that Belo Sun abuses its economic power by supposedly acquiring land in agrarian reform lots in an illegal way. “Belo Sun has been carrying out systematic violations of Human and Fundamental Rights of the communities that live in the region. The mining company constantly omits information about the real impacts that mining will cause in the region, such as the contamination of water resources with mercury, cyanide, arsenic, and antimony,” says the Indigenous lawyer.
The 27-page report alleges that Belo Sun operates in a manner to “silence the discussions about the project, making it impossible to hold forums and public hearings, including through intimidation.”
The Blood Mine report accuses Belo Sun of hiring armed security that is harassing the locals in the Volta Grande do Xingu region, “limiting the right to come and go of these people, preventing them from accessing public areas that were previously used for hunting, fishing, extractivism and leisure.”
Echoing the position of Terena, APIB’s Executive Coordinator Kleber Karipuna says in a press-release, “The Judiciary has suspended Belo Sun's installation license several times due to the mine's potential impacts on Indigenous and traditional communities in the area. We are done with mining activities that, with or without the endorsement of the Brazilian State, attack the right to life and territory of native peoples, in addition to destroying the environment.”
Brazil's current government, led by President Luís Inácio Lula da Silva, has been actively intervening in the crisis faced by the Yanomami people, after images of Yanomami children dying of malnutrition and disease shocked the international media. This led to questions about the role played by the country's former regime, led by Jair Bolsonaro, that might have contributed to the crisis.
Despite this, the APIB believes it is unlikely that the Lula government will oppose the action of mining companies such as Belo Sun and other institutions operating in the region. For example, the Belo Monte dam that is criticized by Indigenous groups and activists was built under the Lula and Dilma Rousseff administrations, both from the Worker’s Party. In 2022, Lula affirmed he didn’t regret the building of the Belo Monte Dam.
APIB's analysis is that mining groups such as Belo Sun have the support of the pro-agribusiness lawmakers in the Congress and Senate and they aren’t opposed by the Lula administration, even though the latter opposes those forces engaging in illegal mining and other unlawful activities that gained traction in the rainforest.
“It is necessary for the Brazilian State to make a change in its neo-developmentalist policies, as they have been shown to violate human rights, especially those of Indigenous peoples. The Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil vehemently repudiates the Belo Sun mining project, as it is certain that it will benefit a small group of investors at the cost of destroying the Amazon Rainforest and condemning the Indigenous peoples and other traditional communities in the region to misery,” states the report.
On their side, Belo Sun writes, “The Volta Grande Project, the first mining project in the center west of Pará, will not be the biggest gold mine in Brazil, as the APIB intends to believe, but it will be a modern industrial project, with a low carbon footprint resulting from the use of electrical equipment and hybrids, and renewable energy sources that will provide the sustainable development of the region and local communities, abandoned by the government to their fate and to illegal mining and deforestation, the only means of socioeconomic survival for the communities of Volta Grande, unfortunately.”
This most recent chapter in the story of APIB and Belo Sun may still culminate in a clash in the courts.
The statements by both parties were originally provided in Portuguese and translated into English for this story.
Here you can access the Blood Mine report at APIB’s official website (in Portuguese): https://apiboficial.org/2023/06/29/apib-denuncia-violacoes-aos-direitos-dos-povos-indigenas-em-projeto-da-mineradora-belo-sun-no-xingu/
To download the full report (in Portuguese): https://apiboficial.org/files/2023/06/APIB_relatorio_minadesangue_Apib.pdf
Below you can read Belo Sun’s official full statement to The Media Co-op:
“Belo Sun’s answer to the “Blood Mine” report by APIB
Belo Sun reviewed the APIB's “Mina de Sangue” (Blood Mine) report on its Volta Grande Project (PVG). Regrettably, the report contains factual errors and makes negative assumptions that misrepresent both the project and the way the company conducts business. [These errors could have been avoided if APIB had been willing to discuss its conclusions with the Company before publishing its report.]
Firstly, the Volta Grande Project will not be responsible for environmental cataclysms and for practices such as “ethnocide”, “genocide” and “ecogenocide”. Contrary to the uninformed and alarmist claims contained in the report, Belo Sun, committed to sustainable development and the ethnodevelopment of local indigenous communities, has always acted in full compliance with Brazilian law and regulations in all aspects of its business, including licensing, environmental studies and programs, and land acquisition.
The Company's consultations with local indigenous communities have met the standard of free, prior and informed consent set out in ILO Convention No. 169, and the Company has established positive and constructive relationships with indigenous communities within its sphere of influence. All indigenous communities potentially affected by the project have been consulted and all support the project and want to see the mine built, which is explicitly addressed in the Juruna and Arara letters of approval published in March 2022. Their continued support for the project is a testament to the relationship they have with the Company, and we guarantee that there were no cases of forced relocations, and none is planned for the future by the Volta Grande Project, especially the relocation of families to Mato Grosso/MT. The fact is that the company donated land in Mato Grosso/MT to INCRA (National Institute for Colonization and Agrarian Reform) as part of the obligations of the Concession of Use Contract that was signed between the Institute and the Company for the concession of the temporary right to use the land where the mine will be implanted. The land donated, however, will be destined for a third-party settlement project, and not as the destination of families settled close to the enterprise, as the APIB confuses. The Ressaca Settlement Project, which the Volta Grande Project overlaps, will continue to exist as it is, without the need to remove settled families. In reality, these families will benefit from the Volta Grande Project, in matters such as land titles, water supply and roads.
It is important to clarify that the Belo Sun Mineração Ltda. it is not found within Indigenous lands, nor does it directly impact them, as the APIB report would have you believe. The Project is approximately 12.6 km and 16 km from the two nearby indigenous lands, Paquiçamba and Arara de Volta Grande do Xingu, respectively, as well as approximately 30 km from the Ituna-Itatá Indigenous Reserve. Other indigenous lands are more than 30 km away from the project and, evidently, will not be impacted, as is clear in the company's procedure with Funai.
As there is currently no mine in operation in Volta Grande, all of APIB's fears about the impact of a mine on the environment and on the local population are nothing more than speculation and alarmist terrorism. There are risks in any mining operation, but Belo Sun is committed to minimizing and mitigating these risks through its commitment to the principles and practices of responsible mining and the use of best practices. For example, Belo Sun has developed a closed-loop water management system that will allow it to operate the mine without drawing water from the river. The water for the Volta Grande Project will be captured from normal precipitation, surface runoff and small seasonal streams in the Amazon rainy season, not interfering negatively in the hydrograph of the Xingu River in the Volta Grande stretch.
Even though it is not yet operational, the company has signed the International Cyanide Management Code and taken the unusual step, for a development project, of creating an independent tailings management review committee. This is a fundamental environmental aspect of any mining project. In the Volta Grande Project, waste material to be removed from the mining operation will be stored in specially designed areas, waste piles and process waste in the form of mineral pulp will be treated in one of the process sections (Detox) to neutralize chemical additives harmful compounds used in the gold extraction process and transform them into benign, non-harmful compounds of carbon and nitrogen. Then, such neutralized mineral slurry will be transported to a tailings reservoir. The reservoir is located in a valley, a natural depression, which makes the tailings disposal project safer and more sustainable. The Volta Grande Project incorporates the construction of a dam with heightening downstream, which is the most robust and safe methodology for the construction of dams, being completely different from the construction models used in the obsolete projects of the old dams of MARIANA and BRUMADINHO, which broke in 2015 and 2019, respectively.
The maximum height that the dam massif will reach at the end of the project's useful life is 44 meters, which is considered a relatively low height for dams of this nature, and the downstream slope of the dam will be reinforced with an immense barren rock buttress, eliminating the risk associated with the occurrence of structural failure caused by the liquefaction of tailings, the main failure mechanism of tailings dams. In this regard, Belo Sun Mineração carried out a simulation study of the unlikely scenario of Rupture, in compliance with one of the conditions of the dam implementation license.
The tailings dam project was planned by competent Brazilian and international professionals and experts and was reviewed by an independent review committee. The Volta Grande Project tailings dam is a modern, safe facility that will be equipped with the best risk management and control technologies and will provide a safe and healthy working environment for its employees and local communities, as well as for the municipality and the State of Pará. The construction of dams with downstream raising has an excellent safety record and the project follows all the guidelines and regulations of the National Policy for Dam Safety, in addition to being reinforced by the waste pile from the Ouro Verde mine, which will act as a buttress to the main massif of the dam.
Currently, Belo Sun's work plan in support of its basic environmental plan – indigenous component (the "PBA-CI") is being reviewed by FUNAI - the federal agency for indigenous affairs. This is a critical step in reactivating the construction license previously obtained by the Company. Furthermore, Belo Sun has never failed to comply with all requirements of federal and state authorities and will continue to comply with any requests for additional information that it may deem necessary.
Finally, allegations that Belo Sun provided conflicting information to investors and Brazilian regulatory authorities are unfounded. In obtaining the Preliminary License, there were several public hearings, the environmental studies were analyzed by all the bodies involved, including the Public Ministry, and then the Preliminary License – LP nº 1312/2014 was issued on 02/20/2014. It should be noted here that the Preliminary License generated 37 (thirty-seven) conditions, all of which were fully complied with by the Applicant.
Before applying for the Installation License, the company carried out several optimizations in the Volta Grande Project, introduced in its engineering project. The main gains and environmental results of these improvements, among others, were: (a) reduction in the total area of the development; (b) total elimination of the need to capture water from the Xingu River (by capturing and using rainwater and recirculating it in a closed system); (c) relocating the sterile piles, optimizing the fine containment control systems; and (d) carbon footprint reduction.
The Volta Grande Project, the first mining project in the center west of Pará, will not be the biggest gold mine in Brazil, as the APIB intends to believe, but it will be a modern industrial project, with a low carbon footprint resulting from the use of electrical equipment and hybrids, and renewable energy sources that will provide the sustainable development of the region and local communities, abandoned by the government to their fate and to illegal mining and deforestation, the only means of socioeconomic survival for the communities of Volta Grande, unfortunately.”
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