Brazil: Canadian gold mine loses license

Brazilian federal judge Claudio Henrique de Pina has revoked Toronto-based Belo Sun Mining Corp.'s environmental license for the construction of the $750 million Volta Grande open-pit gold mine near the Xingu river in the northern state of Pará, the federal Public Ministry office in the state announced June 25. Upholding a suspension ordered last November, the judge ruled that Belo Sun had failed to address "negative and irreversible" impacts the mine would have on three indigenous groups in the area, the Paquiçamba, Arara da Volta Grande and Ituna/Itatá. The communities are already under threat from the construction of the Belo Monte dam, which will cut water flows by 80% to 90% when it goes into operation, according to the government's National Indigenous Foundation (FUNAI).

A Belo Sun news release said the decision only means that the company needs to complete a five-month impact study; it has already commissioned the study, which will start as soon as researchers have permission to access indigenous lands, according to the news release. The mine was expected to open in 2016 and to produce 313,100 ounces of gold each year over a 10-year lifetime; if built, it will be the largest gold mine in Brazil. Belo Sun's shares were down nearly 10% on the Toronto Stock Exchange by noon on June 26. (Ministério Público Federal no Pará press release, June 25; Reuters, June 26;, June 26). This is the latest in a series of reversals for gold mining projects in Latin America, most notably Barrick Gold's mammoth Pascua Lama mine on the Argentine-Chilean border in the Andes.

Meanwhile, a new study by researchers at the Federal University of Pará finds that construction at the controversial Belo Monte dam, expected to be the third largest in the world, has led to the sexual exploitation of local indigenous people. The groups impacted were the Parakanã, the Arara da Cachoeira Seca, the Arara da Volta Grande do Xingu and the Juruna do Paquiçamba, the researchers said. There is also evidence of sexual trafficking of minors. According to the daily Folha de São Paulo, the reported cases of sexual abuse of minors in Altamira—the city most affected by the project and the 25,000 workers building it—rose from 43 in 2010 to 75 in 2011, the year construction began. (Terra Brasil, June 8)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, June 29.