Brazil's Minster of Natural Environment said Nov. 27 that the country's government plans to sue BHP Billiton Ltd., Vale SA, and Samarco Mineração SA for $5.24 billion for damages caused by a dam collapse at an iron ore site the two co-own. The iron ore site, Samarco Mineração SA, is a joint mining venture between the two companies. BHP Billiton Ltd. is the largest mining company, and Vale SA is the biggest ore miner in the world. The dam contained and released 60 million cubic meters of mine waste and mud that killed at least 13 people, left approximately 11 people missing, and devastated an entire village when it collapsed earlier this month. Brazilian Minister Izabella Teixeira announced that the government would seek to create a fund to compensate victims and to pay for the environmental recovery of the effected areas. The fund would be created gradually as a percentage of the companies' profits. The Special Rapporteurs sent by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) reported that the "steps taken by the Brazilian government, Vale and BHP Billiton to prevent harm were clearly insufficient" and that "this disaster serves as yet another tragic example of the failure of businesses to adequately conduct human rights due diligence to prevent human rights abuses."
Brazilian mining company Samarco has agreed to pay at least $260 million in compensation for the Nov. 11 collapse of two dams it used to hold waste water from iron ore, which caused an avalanche of mud to inundate nearby villages in Minas Gerais state. Eleven people were killed and 12 are missing, presumed dead. The village of Bento Rodrigues was totally destroyed, with more than 500 people left homeless. Residents are being temporarily housed in hotels in the city of Mariana. Some 250,000 local residents are also left without drinking water. The mud is still being tested for potential toxins from the mine. In imposing the fine, Brazilian environmental agency IBAMA called the disaster "the worst mining accident in Brazil's history." Operations at the facility remain suspended, with Samarca admitting that two more dams at the site are "at risk of collapsing."
Residents in the northern Argentine town of Famatina celebrated a major victory Nov. 4 after the governor-elect (and current vice-governor) of La Rioja province, Sergio Casas, announced that the Midais mining company's planned gold project in the area would be cancelled. This decision comes weeks after a peaceful protest against the project was met with police repression. Residents fear the project would contaminate the waters of the local Río Blanco. This is the fourth time that Famatina residents have thwarted mining efforts in the province of La Rioja, having successfully defeated advances by major international companies Barrick Gold, Osisko, and Shandong Gold over the past 10 years. Vice-Governor Casas cautiously commented: "The company will go despite its activities not having caused contamination, but we look for a necessary consensus among residents." (Argentina Independent, Nov. 4)
Residents of San Juan Jáchal, in Argentina's northwestern province of San Juan, are mobilizing in the wake of last month's cyanide spill at Barrick Gold's Veladero mine, under the slogan of "A Spring without Barrick or Cyanide." In the first protest roadblock the province has seen, demonstrators on Oct. 22 took over an access road leading to the mine, with a banner reading "HELP! BARRICK KILLED THE HOPES OF THE FARMERS!" The blockade was broken up that night by federal police troops at 4 AM, with 23 arrested. The local committee "Jáchal No Se Toca" (Hands Off Jáchal) issued a statement decrying the "violence and brutality" of the army attack. The Sept. 13 spill of a million and a half liters of cyanide-contaminated water affected the local Río Jáchal. (InfoBae, Oct. 23; Radio Lavaca, Buenos Aires, Oct. 22)
Thousands of protesters marched on government offices in Resistencia, capital of Argentina's Chaco province, after popular leader Angel Verón died Oct. 19 from wounds sustained in a beating by police three weeks earlier. Verón, a leader of "No al Desalojo" (No Evictions) campaign for housing rights as part of the Unemployed Workers Movement (MTD), was at a roadblock on the major route into Resistencia when he was attacked by police on Sept. 24. The roadblock was launched to press Gov. Jorge Capitanich on his pledge to provide construction materials for his group to build housing for the poor. Protesters are demanding the resignation of provincial police chief Gustavo Peña, and a thorough investigation of the incident leading to Verón's death. Protesters held a vigil outside the provincial government building to demand a meeting with Capitanich, but were rebuffed. Capitanich stepped down earlier this year as President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner's cabinet chief. (Chaco por Día, Oct. 21; Diario Norte, Oct. 20; Clarín, Oct. 19)
A peaceful anti-mining march headed towards the Midais site in Argentina's La Rioja province was dispersed by police using tear-gas and rubber bullets Oct. 15. The march was made up of environmental activists and citizens from Famatina, near where Argentine firm Midais SH hopes to begin gold-mining operations. Provincial police attacked the march, which began in the town of Angulos, to enforce a judicial order barring protests within three kilometers of the mine site. National deputy Julio César Martínez of the Radical Civic Union (UCR) was reportedly hit in the neck with a rubber bullet during the assault. Two children were also reported injured. Fatamina was the scene of widespread protests in 2007 and 2012 when Canadian companies Barrick Gold and Osisko sought to begin operations. Residents fear for the impacts of mining on the local Río Blanco, and say the companies have no "social license" to operate in the area. (Argentina Independent, IPPM, InfoBae, Clariín, Oct. 15)
Mapuche indigenous leaders in Chile are expressing outrage over the violent eviction of protesters who were occupying a government office in the southern region of Araucania last month. Some 40 local Mapuche residents had been occupying the offices of the National Indigenous Development Corporation (CONADI) in Temuco for three weeks when the building was stormed by troops of the Carabineros militarized police force Sept. 7. "The security forces, without warning, began immediately firing tear gas inside the building, even though they knew there were women and children inside," Mapuche leader Victor Queipul told Chilean media outlets. "These events...clearly show the inability of the government to engage in dialogue over the situation in La Araucania." The protest occupation was launched to demand resistution of usurped lands, and "demilitarization" of the Mapuche community of Ercilla, Malleco province, which has been occupied by police troops for months. (UNPO, Sept. 10; TeleSur, Sept. 8; PubliMetro, Biobio, 24Horas, Chile, Sept. 7)
A Brazilian court on Sept. 21 sentenced former treasurer of the country's governing Worker's Party Joao Vaccari Neto to 15 years and four months in prison for charges stemming from his connection to the Petrobras corruption scandal. Vaccari was found guilty of corruption, money laundering and conspiracy, having accepted at least $1 million in bribes from the oil company, which is partially owned by the Brazilian state. Former Petrobras director of services Renato Duque was sentenced to 20 years and eight months after being convicted of making 24 payments totaling 4.2 million reals to the Worker's Party from 2008-2010 at Vaccari's request. Investigating federal judge Sergio Moro found that the money laundering had an impact on the democratic process. Both Vaccari and Duque have denied the charges.