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."
Peru's government on Nov. 8 officially designated as a national park the Sierra del Divisor area of the Amazon rainforest, along the Brazilian border and straddling the regions of Ucayali and Loreto. President Ollanta Humala symbolically signed the decree from the indigenous community of Nuevo Saposoa in Ucayali after taking a helicopter flight around the sierra's iconic "Cone Mountain" that rises dramatically from the jungle plain. "We want to preserve this geographic area as an important part of the lungs that allow us to purify the air of the world and, moreover, to save it from illegal activities such as illegal logging, drug trafficking and other activities that deforest our jungles," Humala said.
Indigenous leaders and activists interrupted an auction of oil and gas exploration blocs overseen by the Brazilian Agency of Oil and Gas in Rio de Janeiro Oct. 7, seizing the stage to discuss climate change, indigenous rights and divestment. The intervention by indigenous leaders in face-paint and traditional head-dresses was followed by a delegation of unionized oil workers who also spoke against the auction. The auction was described as a failure by local media, with only 37 of the 266 blocs sold. Many of fracking blocs extend deep into the Amazon rainforest, including the territories of remote and vulnerable indigenous peoples. The most critical blocs for isolated indigenous peoples are in the Juruá Valley and Serra do Divisor of Amazonas state, and the Javari Valley of Acre. Registered bidders included BP, Shell and ExxonMobil. (EcoWatch, Oct. 9; Brasil ao Minuto, Oct. 7; The Ecologist, Oct. 6)
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.
A Guarani-Kaiowa indigenous leader was shot dead Aug. 29 at Douradina municipality in Brazil's Mato Grosso do Sul state, one week after his community occupied part of their ancestral lands. Community leaders had warned of an imminent attack, after their encampment was surrounded by gunmen in 30 vehicles. Semião Vilhalva of the Nanderu Marangatu community was killed when the gunmen, hired by local ranchers, finally stormed the encampment—reportedly in the presence of government agents. The encampment was re-established after the attack, but suffered a second assault on Sept. 3. "They came in and began to shoot everywhere," said one Guarani leader.
Amnesty International in a report issued Aug. 3 charges that Brazil's military police have been responsible for more than 1,500 deaths in Rio de Janeiro in the last five years, accusing them of a "shoot first, ask questions later" policy. Amnesty released the findings ahead of the one-year countdown to the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. The report, "You killed my son: Killings by military police in Rio de Janeiro," reveals that nearly 16% of the total homicides registered in the city in the last five years took place at the hands of on-duty police—1,519 in total. Just in the favela of Acari, in the city's north, Amnesty found evidence of "extrajudicial executions" in at least nine out of 10 killings committed by the military police in 2014.
Gunmen killed at least 18 people in outlying districts of Brazil's largest city, Sao Paulo, in a series of overnight attacks Aug. 14. Witnesses and video footage in several locations indicated that masked gunmen pulled up in a car before opening fire. In many cases they checked the victims' names before shooting, or asked if they had criminal records. At least six other people were injured in the attacks, in the districts of Osasco and Barueri. Authorities are said to be investigating whether the attacks were a coordinated campaign of revenge by off-duty officers following the deaths of two colleagues in the targeted districts the previous week. Police in Brazil are responsible for more than 2,000 deaths per year, and off-duty officers rarely face prosecution for vigilante justice. (Reuters, BBC News, Aug. 15)