A delegation comprised of Brazilian Indigenous and community leaders from the Amazonian Xingu and Tapajós regions is traveling to Belgium and Switzerland to meet with European Union officials and denounce the invasions in their territories by mining companies such as the Canada’s Belo Sun and by illegal gold miners, who are driving the genocide of Indigenous peoples and ecocide of the Amazon
From May 2 through 6, a delegation of Indigenous and community leaders, lawyers, and scholars will meet with European Union authorities and executives of gold refineries, in Belgium and Switzerland, to present a series of complaints on human rights violations, while calling for urgent solutions. Before that, part of the delegation went to Scotland, invited for a lecture at the Strathclyde Business School in Glasgow.
The delegation is part of an international advocacy strategy to deepen investigations into the role of European governments, companies and investors into large infrastructure and mining projects in the Amazon, particularly in the regions of the Tapajós River basin and the Xingu River’s “Big Bend” (Volta Grande do Xingu), which are currently the site of major conflicts, land invasions and human rights violations—many committed by corporate interests, such as the Canadian mining company Belo Sun.
The delegation includes Maria Leusa Kaba Munduruku, president of the Munduruku (Wakoborũn) Indigenous Women’s Association; Luiz Eloy Terena, legal coordinator of the Association of Brazil’s Indigenous Peoples (APIB); Ana Laide Soares Barbosa, community educator at the Xingu Alive Forever Movement; and Sara Rodrigues de Lima and Idglan da Silva Cunha, who represent the Guardians of Volta Grande do Xingu Nucleus.
“Our trip to Europe has two goals. The first is to denounce to authorities the investments that International companies make in our Amazon in mining, hydroelectric plants, agribusiness, waterways, ports, railways and timber extraction. These investments carry with them the death of our people and the environment, cause disease, violate human rights and the rights of mother nature. These investments are driving the planet into chaos. Our second goal is get people to respect our ways of life and show solidarity so that, together, we can rebuild other ways of life without destruction and recover the losses to rivers, our forests and to our human dignity,” said Ana Laide Soares Barbosa, community educator of the Xingu Alive Forever Movement.
The delegation’s agenda includes meetings with the EU Special Representative for Human Rights, Eamon Gilmore, to discuss the complaint previously submitted to his office about the Ressaca Settlement Project, on the Xingu; with Belo Sun’s Swiss investor, Konwave; and with refineries that currently receive gold obtained from illegal mining activities on Brazilian Indigenous territories. They will also take part in a press conference with Swiss journalists organized by the human rights organization Society for Threatened Peoples, and in a seminar at the University of Antwerp on community and legal strategies to resist land invasions and mining projects in the Brazilian Amazon.
“Me and my five-year-old daughter, Vitoria Munduruku, came to Europe to share the voices of the Munduruku women and the Munduruku people, the voices of Indigenous peoples.It took us five days to get here. We are here to share our painful experiences, because we are being attacked, besieged, invaded, by miners, plunderers, corporations, and mining companies, by the Brazilian government and its allies. We are mothers, we are lands, we are territory, we are rivers and we want peace. We came to show this voice, this cry of our children to Europe, the home to many of the foreign companies that support the death of our children’s lives, our people, within our home, of our territory where we live. We are here to call for justice so that they stop invading our territory. We don’t want any more invasions by these companies that are taking their business into our territories,” said Maria Leusa Kaba Munduruku, president of the Munduruku (Wakoborũn) Indigenous Women’s Association.
The delegation will be accompanied by Ana Carolina Alfinito, coordinator of the Observatory of the Criminal Justice System and Indigenous Peoples of APIB and Amazon Watch’s legal advisor; by Brian Garvey, researcher from the University of Strathclyde (Scotland); by Tomaso Ferrando, professor of law at the University of Antwerp (Belgium) and legal advisor to the United Nations; by Maurício Torres, professor at the University of Pará; by Thais Borges, documentarian; and by Gasparini Kaingang, Indigenous consultant for Amazon Watch and member of the Mídia India collective.
The trip is an initiative of the Volta Grande do Xingu Alliance, which includes organizations and social movements from Brazil and globally. The movement supports the defense of life and dignity in the Volta Grande do Xingu region and its permanent protection against infrastructure projects such as the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam and Belo Sun’s mega-mine. The Alliance is made up of AIDA, Amazon Watch, Earthworks, International Rivers, Instituto Socioambiental – ISA, Mining Watch, Movimento Xingu Vivo para Sempre and Rede Xingu+.
The threats to the Volta Grande do Xingu region
The construction of the Belo Monte dam was characterized by serious socio-environmental impacts on the Volta Grande do Xingu region, which is considered to be one of the most biodiverse places in the world. Riverside families were forcibly removed from their lands, and local Indigenous people, who inhabit several protected territories, had their way of living drastically altered by the drop in river levels.
Residents of Volta Grande do Xingu now suffer from the possibility of witnessing the construction of the largest open-pit gold mine in Brazil, which is slated to be carried out by the Canadian mining company Belo Sun Mining. The company announced investments of US$ 240 million, and plans its operations only 14 kilometers from the Belo Monte dam. Over 12 years, it expects to extract 73.7 tons of gold, with expected profits of US$1 billion.
To develop its mine, Belo Sun expects to conduct ongoing detonations to extract gold from the soil. The tailings dam designed for the mine would be similar in size to that of the dam built by the Brazilian mining company Vale, which collapsed in Mariana in 2015, leading to Brazil’s largest environmental crime. There is also a risk that the detonations will impact the stability of the Belo Monte dam, as well as of that of Belo Sun, a risk that was not considered by the company. Belo Monte’s operator, Norte Energia, warned in a recent statement, of the risks of implementing the project in the area.
According to experts, the project has serious structural flaws, which were not clearly presented to the impacted communities in the consultation process. Studies of environmental impacts carried out by the mining company disregard both the potential seismic impacts on the tailings dam and the cumulative impacts it would cause in conjunction with the Belo Monte dam.
A report claims that in the case of a dam rupture at least nine million cubic meters of toxic waste could reach the Xingu River and travel more than 40 kilometers in two hours, causing irreversible damage. These tailings would contain highly toxic metals, such as cyanide, arsenic and mercury, which could pose the risk of ecocide of the Xingu River. Other studies point to impacts such as changes in the reproductive cycle of fauna, deforestation and/or burning, pollution of water resources and soil pollution.
Local communities, independent experts and Brazilian authorities responsible for protecting human rights and the environmental legislation have shown that Belo Sun has failed to comply with a number of legal obligations in its environmental licensing process. In particular, the gaps are related to inadequate analysis of social and environmental risks, as well as the disregard for the right to Free, Prior and Informed Consultation and Consent of Indigenous Peoples and other traditional communities.
Despite this court order, since April 2021 employees of a security company hired by Belo Sun have been seen carrying weapons in the villages of Ouro Verde and Ressaca, and in Garimpo do Galo. The presence of this private armed force on public lands, acting on behalf of the Belo Sun company, frightens and threatens traditional communities, who are fearful of moving around in the area and carrying out extractive activities that are essential for their survival and permanence in their lands.
Finally, communities living in other settlement areas near the project report that they have not been consulted to date about the company’s plans and the possible impacts of the project. All of these flaws haven’t prevented the company from negotiating with Incra—the agency responsible for these public areas—the occupation of an area in the state of Mato Grosso as compensation for the plots acquired illegally. The deals continue under the counter, without any dialogue with the affected communities, many of whom have lived in the area for more than 30 years.
On April 25, Belo Sun Mining Corp lost in the court of appeals a lawsuit filed by the Federal Public Ministry, recommending that the environmental license granted by the state of Pará be revoked. The decision was taken by the Regional Federal Court of the 1st Region (TRF1). With the license revoked by 3 votes to 0, the project is once again halted. The company, however, can appeal the decision to a higher court.
Illegal mining explosion in the Tapajós Basin
The Tapajós region concentrates the highest volume of illegal mining activity in the entire Amazon. The largest mining areas within Indigenous lands are in Kayapó (7,602 ha) and Munduruku (1,592 ha), Pará, and Yanomami (414 ha), in Amazonas and Roraima. Most of these mines are located inside Munduruku territories, and as recent inspections indicate, the Indigenous population shows high contamination by mercury.
The support given to illegal mining by federal, state and municipal authorities fuels conflicts in the territories, which translate into attacks on the lives of advocates of Indigenous rights. The case of violence in the Munduruku lands of the Upper Rio Tapajós, in Pará, is emblematic. Since late 2020, the invasions and tensions involving illegal prospectors in the Munduruku Territory have intensified in an unprecedented way, with total omission by the Brazilian government. In March, the Munduruku (Wakoborũn) Women’s Association, in Jacareacanga, in the state of Pará, was invaded and burned by a group of miners. In May, the village where Maria Leusa lives was invaded by illegal miners, who set fire to the homes of Leusa and her mother, chief Dona Isaura. The entire village was destroyed by the miners’ criminal action. In June, a bus that was supposed to take Munduruku leaders to a demonstration in Brasília was attacked. In November, just after COP 26, the home of another Munduruku leader, Alessandra Korap, was invaded.
Munduruku leaders are still being threatened and intimidated, and haven’t been offered security support by the Federal Government.