MAC: Mines and Communities

Latin American Update

Published by MAC on 2006-10-20

Latin American Update

20th October 2006

Native Brazilians have occupied their own lands, apparently seeking further compensation from the world's biggest iron ore miner which seized them in the first place. Canadians stand in solidarity with communities impacted by three British coal companies and call upon a New Brunswick utility to obtain adequate compensation for displaced villagers and improvement in workers' conditions.

This week we also publish a statement from Peru, highlighting last week's indictment of Doie Run's La Oroya smelter as one of the "ten worst sites" for pollution around the world.


[Editorial note: We strongly oppose the highly negative image conferred on the Xikrin people in this article (clearly inspired by a press statement from CVRD) which presents them as "invaders" of what is effectively their own territory. Last year they were also said to have invaded the company, although the administator of FUNAI (the "Indian Protection" service) denied their had been any show of violence]

Brazilian Indians invade company town of iron ore miner CVRD

Associated Press

18th October 2006

SAO PAULO, Brazil Indians wielding war clubs and bows and arrows stormed an Amazon mining complex, shutting it down in an apparent demand for more compensation from the world's largest iron ore miner, the company said Wednesday.

Brazil's CVRD said daily production of 250,000 metric tons (275,000 U.S. tons) of iron ore was halted after about 200 Indians from the Xikrin tribe occupied the company town of Carajas.

While the company said it had not received any direct demands, the invasion appeared to be an attempt "to pressure the company to increase financial contributions to the indigenous community."

The Indians occupied an ore export freight railway terminal Tuesday night, and prevented hundreds of workers from leaving for home by seizing the keys of buses that transport employees to and from the mining complex. They also looted a company restaurant and made away with workers' possessions, the company said in a statement.

There were no immediate reports of deaths or injuries during the rampage, but the Indians remained at the complex Wednesday and about 5,000 employees were unable to return to work, CVRD said.

Carajas, which was built by CVRD, is in the largely undeveloped state of Para, about 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles) north of Sao Paulo. It produces about 70 million metric tons (78 million U.S. tons) of iron ore yearly and is being expanded by Companhis Vale do Rio Doce SA.

The Xikrins, who live in two remote villages, could not immediately be reached for comment. Brazil's Indian Missionary Council, a Roman Catholic Church-backed group that helps many tribes, said it was trying to learn details about the occupation but had no immediate comment.

The invasion came eight months after Indian tribes blocked a railroad from Carajas in protests over health care, reducing CVRD's first-quarter iron ore shipments by 1 million metric tons (1.1 million U.S. tons).

CVRD said it now contributes about 9 million reals (US$4.3 million, *3.4 million) annually to the Xikrins under a social-development agreement signed in June.

he company said it would pursue criminal charges against the Indians, and that it had obtained a judge's order Wednesday that would allow authorities to evict them using force if necessary. But groups in Brazil that occupy private property usually abandon the locations after negotiations with authorities.

CVRD called the invasion a form of extortion, and said it could result in the cancellation of the social-development deal.

The company "will not give in to blackmail of any kind," CVRD said. CVRD shares were virtually unchanged in late Wednesday afternoon trading on Sao Paulo's benchmark Ibovespa exchange.

The company's American depository shares rose 0.6 percent, or 14 cents, to US$24.03 (*19.16) on the New York Stock Exchange.

Brazilian Indians free hostages at CVRD mine

Peter Blackburn

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil, (Reuters)

18th October 2006

Indians have released hostages they seized after they rampaged through a northern Brazilian mining town demanding more aid from CVRD, the world's largest iron ore miner, the company said on Wednesday.

Brazil's Companhia Vale do Rio Doce (CVRD) (VALE5.SA: Quote, Profile, Research)(RIO.N: Quote, Profile, Research) said in a statement that 200 Xikrin Indians, armed with bows, arrows and sticks "violently" invaded its installations in Carajas, Para state, on Tuesday.

"The Indians damaged equipment, stole worker's belongings, sacked the restaurant...and took control of radio communications," CVRD said.

CVRD said that 3,000 workers were in Carajas when the Indians attacked. It said the Indians seized the keys to buses, preventing workers from returning home, and held 600 people hostage for about two hours.

"This morning more than 5,000 workers were prevented from entering the industrial area at the start of the shift," CVRD said, adding that operations, including rail transport, were suspended.

Some 12-13 trains per day are normally loaded with iron ore for transport to the port of Ponta da Madeira at Sao Luis in the northeastern state of Maranhao.

It was unclear how many trains had been held up, a CVRD official said. The Carajas mining complex produces 250,000 tonnes of iron ore daily. In 2005, Carajas produced a record 72.5 million tonnes out of CVRD's total iron ore output of around 234 million tonnes. Output at Carajas is due to expand to 100 million tonnes annually.

CVRD said that a judge issued an injunction on Wednesday authorising it to retake possession of its installations.

CVRD said it had no immediate news about the possible impact on copper, manganese and pig iron which are also carried by the railway.

CVRD said it believed that the invasion was aimed at forcing the company to increase the 9 million reais ($4.2 million) aid it gives the Xikrin tribe annually.

"CVRD doesn't accept such illegal action and won't give in to blackmail .. repeatedly practiced by the Xikrin community," CVRD said, adding that it will use all legal means to defend its rights.

It added that it wasn't mining on Indian land and that the invasion could result in its agreement with the Xikrin being canceled.

A spokeswoman at the National Indian Agency (FUNAI) in Brasilia said she had no immediate comment on the Indian action.

In February, Indians from the Guajajara tribe blocked CVRD's railway line from Carajas to Sao Luis and took four CVRD employees hostage to press demands for better public health care. The hostages were freed after two days.

Indians also temporarily blocked a CVRD iron ore export railway line in the southeastern state of Minas Gerais in December 2005 after another group of Indians invaded a town near Carajas the previous month, threatening to stop output.


[Editorial note: Although we applaud the action reported in the following article, the report itself is weak: it fails to name the offending companies - Anglo American, BHPBilliton and Xstrata which jointly own the El Cerrjon coal mine, whose former owners included Glencore and ExxonMobil. And while there have certainly been confirmed reports of deaths in the mine area, we have yet to receive confirmation that they are directly connected with the mining operations]

Protesters decry use of 'blood coal' / By STEPHEN LLEWELLYN, The Daily Gleaner (Canada)

18th October 2006

Social activists demonstrating over the use of Colombia's so-called "blood coal" protested in front of NB Power's headquarters in Fredericton on Tuesday.

About 10 protesters held a large sign reading "Villages gone to turn our lights on."

They also scattered coal on the sidewalk and performed a skit on the sidewalk about how poor Colombians are driven out of their villages to make way for a giant coal mine.

"A lot of people in New Brunswick have no idea where their coal comes from or what happens along the way," said Asaf Rashid of the UNB/STU Social Justice Society. "We want to expose this issue."

Rashid said that 16 per cent of the electricity generated by NB Power comes from what he calls "blood coal" from Colombia.

"Paramilitary forces were used to remove the people from their villages," he said. "There was brutality. It was a bloody operation ... I think it is fair to call it blood coal."

There were unconfirmed reports of some villagers being killed, he said. If the group can get enough publicity, it will put pressure on NB Power to act and demand that Colombia treat its workers properly and compensate the villagers who were relocated, said Rashid. People could even delay paying their power bill, he suggested.

While the demonstration played out on the sidewalk and protesters handed out information pamphlets, other activists were meeting with NB Power executives inside the building.

Brian Duplessis, NB Power vice-president of corporate communications, said the meeting was informative.

"They presented to us what they saw as the social and economic situation in Colombia," he said.

"They asked us to consider writing letters to the owners of the mine we do buy coal from and several other parties ... They have not asked us to not buy coal from Colombia."

He said the social-justice representatives were told NB Power officials would discuss the situation and get back to them by the end of the month.

Duplessis said NB Power has been burning Colombian coal along with other coal in its Belledune plant for about 15 years. The plant is designed to burn that specific coal, he said.

That plant burns up to one million tonnes of coal a year, he said.

He confirmed that 10 to 16 per cent of electricity generated by NB Power comes from the Colombia coal.

NB Power doesn't have a written policy on human rights at companies that supply fuel, he said.

Tracy Glynn of the Fredericton Peace Coalition attended the meeting with NB Power.

"There was no commitment made by NB Power but they seemed open to hear everything we had to present to them," she said. "We want NB Power to basically write a letter to the coal mining company and the Colombian government to respect and uphold international labour rights and local communities."

In November the mine workers' union in Colombia is negotiating with the company for compensation for displaced villagers, said Glynn.

"We want NB Power to write this letter before the negotiations start," she said.

Glynn said every letter has an impact and let's the company know the world is watching.

She also said the coalition is collecting medical supplies to take to small Colombian villages when a delegation travels there at the end of the month. Donations can be dropped off at the Underground Café in Fredericton.


Indígenas invaden instalación de gigante minero brasileño

Associated Press

10th Octobre 2006

SAO PAULO - Un grupo de indígenas armados con arcos y flechas, que demanda compensaciones por actividades mineras en una región amazónica, invadió y paralizó un local propiedad de la empresa de explotación de hierro más grande del mundo, informó la compañía el miércoles.

En un comunicado la Companhia Vale do Río Doce (CVRD) indicó que la producción diaria de 250.000 toneladas métricas de mineral de hierro fue parada después que 200 indígenas Xikrin, de la reserva Catete, invadieron el núcleo urbano de Carajás, en el estado de Pará, al norte del país.

"No sabemos el motivo de la invasión. Informaciones no oficiales dan cuenta de que las intenciones (de los Xikrin) es presionar a la Companhia Vale do Rio Doce para aumentar los recursos financieros destinados a la comunidad indígena", agregó la CVRD en una nota en su sitio de internet.

Los indígenas ocuparon la terminal férrea de salida del mineral el martes por la noche y evitaron que miles de trabajadores pudieran retornar a sus casas al apoderarse con las llaves de los buses que transportan a los empleados desde y hacia el complejo minero de Carajás.

También saquearon un restaurante y despensa de comida de la empresa y se apoderaron de objetos de lo empleados, dijo CVRD en su nota.

La empresa calificó la acción de violenta, pero no hubo informes de heridos o muertos en Carajás, un remoto y empobrecido poblado a unos 2.000kilómetros al norte de Sao Paulo. Al menos 600 personas que estaban en el complejo fueron mantenidas "como rehenes por cerca de dos horas" el martes tarde y en la jornada 5.000 empleados que irían a iniciar su turno de labores fueron impedidos por los indígenas de entrar al área industrial del complejo, agregó CVRD.

El complejo de Carajás, construido por CVRD, genera unos 70 millones de toneladas métricas de hierro cada año y la compañía está expandiendo su capacidad.

La empresa dijo que emprendería acciones legales incluyendo obtener una orden judicial para la evacuación del grupo. Pero en Brasil las ocupaciones de propiedad privada usualmente acaban tras negociaciones con las autoridades.

"La CVRD no pacta con tales métodos ilegales, no cederá a los chantajes de cualquier especie, reiteradamente usadas por la comunidad Xikrin y destaca que las operaciones de la empresa no están en tierras indígenas", aseguró la compañía en su nota.

La acción de los Xikrin se produjo ocho meses después que otro grupo indígena bloqueó la línea férrea de Carajás, una arteria crucial para la salida del hierro desde Pará hacia el vecino estado de Maranhao y que liga la gigantesca mina con un puerto.

La protesta de febrero, en reclamo de mejoras en los servicios de salud, provocó una baja de un millón de toneladas de hierro en los envíos de CVRD en el primer trimestre del 2006.

La empresa dijo además que colabora con unos nueve millones de reales (4,3 millones de dólares) para los Xikrin, bajo los términos de un acuerdo de desarrollo social firmado en junio de este año. Agregó la "invasión podría generar la cancelación del convenio" firmado con los Xikrin.



La Oroya es uno de los lugares más contaminados de América del Sur por la alta presencia de plomo y metales pesados en el ambiente y en la sangre de su población, así lo informó el Instituto Blacksmith, organización conservacionista no gubernamental con sede en Nueva York.

De acuerdo a una investigación propalada este jueves por diversas agencias noticiosas, el Instituto Blacksmith estableció la lista de los 10 lugares más contaminados del planeta basados en datos de científicos, académicos y organismos ecologistas en todo el mundo.

El Instituto Blacksmith, hace referencia que la planta de fundición de metales instalada en La Oroya a cargo de la empresa norteamerica Doe Run Perú (DRP), "es en gran parte responsable de los peligrosamente altos niveles de plomo que se han encontrado en los niños de la comunidad".

Cabe resaltar que el 12 de diciembre del 2005, el Estado peruano a través del Consejo Nacional del Ambiente (CONAM), en carta al entonces Presidente de DRP, Bruce Neil, notificó oficialmente a la empresa su “…condición de macroemisor de los contaminantes dióxido de azufre, material particulado y plomo en la ciudad de La Oroya…”

Igualmente la investigación del Instituto Blacksmith, destaca los estudios llevados a cabo por el Ministerio de Salud del Perú (MINSA), que indican que 99% de los niños que viven en y alrededor de La Oroya, han mostrado niveles de plomo en sangre y otros metales pesados que exceden los límites máximos permisibles, que pueden llegar a producir cáncer y parálisis.

Estos alarmantes resultados fueron ratificados el 2005 por los investigadores de la Universidad de Saint Louis de Missouri, quienes realizaron un estudio sobre la contaminacion ambiental en los hogares de la Oroya y Concepción y sus efectos en la salud de sus residentes. Fernando Serrano, investigador principal del estudio, indicó en esa oportunidad que: “desde una perspectiva de salud pública, los niveles de plomo, de antimonio, cadmio y de varios otros metales encontrados en La Oroya son extremadamente altos.”

La Oroya es el único lugar en América del Sur, de acuerdo a este informe, que presenta los peores niveles de contaminación y afecta seriamente la salud de las personas. Comparte esta escalofriante lista de los 10 lugares más contaminados del mundo, con Chernobyl donde ocurrió el mayor accidente industrial del mundo, Dzerzhinsk una ciudad rusa donde se fabricaban armas químicas, Linfen donde se desarrolla la industria de carbón en China y Rapinet donde más de 3 millones de personas están afectadas por desechos de curtiduría en La India.

Esta noticia ha tenido una alta repercusión por la seriedad de la información y los peligros que ocasiona la contaminación por metales pesados y plomo. Importantes agencias del mundo como Reuters; la BBC de Londres; Euskadi de España, entre otras han publicado hoy sobre este tema. / 261-6515/9667-0634/471-2352/9873-6260

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