Vale statement of giving up prospect on indigenous land in the Amazon is part of a broad strategy: we show what is behind

Vale has just announced that it will file with the National Mining Agency (ANM) the withdrawal of all requests it has to mine in indigenous lands in the brazilian Amazon.

So far, Vale has dozens of active applications, which focus mainly on the Xikrin do Cateté indigenous land, in Pará, where the Xikrin and Kayapó live.

Read a new story about the case: After announcing his withdrawal, Vale now wants to mine around the Xikrin indigenous land in Pará (in portuguese)

The Onça Puma nickel mine is located in the region, and it is the target of a lawsuit and an agreement made by Vale with the indigenous people, which expires in November 2021.

The agreement search the definitive remediation of the pollution caused by Vale in the region’s rivers. The Federal Prosecutor’s Office (MPF), mediator of the agreement, says that “the negotiations are in progress” and “proposals are under discussion”. In case they do not reach a final solution, judicial execution can take place.

Vale, however, officially denies that it has contaminated the rivers and calls into question the researchers’ report. The case has been going on for years. Nickel is considered “essential” for the “green transition” of the world energy matrix.

Other indigenous lands that were targeted by Vale at the ANM include the Munduruku and Kayabi, also in Pará.

Vale’s withdrawal from the applications for indigenous lands, which had been happening gradually in recent months, still needs to be made official in the ANM system. The move, however, indicates a clear strategy of the Brazilian mining company, among the 5 largest in the world and which recorded R$ 70 billion in net income in the first half of 2021.

Strongly betting on the “ESG” corporate agenda, theoretically responsible socio-environmental governance, Vale indicates to international investors that it is trying to let go of “controversial” points in its operations in Brazil, especially in the Amazon and on indigenous peoples, which always are the subject of greater international scrutiny.

Vale, in fact, does not have to bear the “burden” of maintaining these requirements because, as its record profit demonstrates, the mining company is doing very well. Despite oscillations in the iron ore market.

Nor does it seem smart to ally itself so directly with the government of Jair Bolsonaro, an international pariah, a laughingstock – as his lying speech at the UN has proven for the thousandth time – and who is the author of PL 191/2020, which wants to release mining and agribusiness in indigenous lands.

Officially, the mining company says that “it understands that mining in Indigenous Lands can only occur through the Free, Prior and Informed Consent of the indigenous people themselves, and in light of a regulatory framework that contemplates the participation and autonomy of indigenous peoples. (…) The new Bill 191/2020, if approved, will not impact your business”.

Nor could it impact, as it is currently illegal to mine in indigenous lands. But the speech makes it clear that, once the PL is approved and the authorization takes place, nothing prevents that, in the future, if Vale so wishes, the mining company can return to trying to mine in indigenous areas. Many of these areas, by the way, are near her projects.

In Canada, for example, Vale operates in indigenous lands, at the Voisey’s Bay mine. The Canadian model of mining in indigenous areas is regarded as an “example” by the Brazilian government. Even with numerous conflicts caused by mining companies against indigenous people in progress in Canada, including the disrespect for prior, free and informed consent.

The Mining Observatory was the first media outlet to reveal the extent of Vale’s requirements on indigenous lands, in November 2019. After our story, there were reports in other outlets and the public demand from critical shareholders at a Vale meeting about these requirements.

This move does not happen by chance and is linked to a larger strategy at Vale.

Photo credit: Inhobikwa

Pressure from international investors is a key point

Vale tries in every way to get rid of “problematic” projects and clean up its image in the world. In Mozambique, for example, where it has one of the largest coal mines on the planet, Vale announced that it has started the process of selling the operations.

This is due to both the role of coal’s villain in the global climate crisis – and China, Vale’s main iron ore customer, has just announced that it will no longer invest in coal abroad – and the fact that the coal business in Mozambique did not give the financial return that Vale expected.

It was there that one child died, another had a leg amputated and three others were seriously injured in a landmine accident within the settlement area carried out by Vale at the end of 2020.

The Moatize mine, by the way, required lobbying efforts from Vale for decades, a fundamental approach with the Brazilian and Mozambican government, the creation of an immense logistical corridor (railways, ports, airports) that dragged other Brazilian companies – like Odebrecht – over there. This is not just any business.

The reason for all this is simple: money.

In May 2020, Vale already lost the US$ 650 million dollars it had in investment from the Norwegian Sovereign Fund. The reason alleged by the Fund was the ruptures in Mariana and Brumadinho dams.

This fund, controlled by Norges Bank, concentrates Norway’s revenues from oil and gas production. He is among the world’s biggest investors, owning around 1.5% of all shares listed globally in more than 9,200 companies in 74 countries. It manages over $1 trillion dollars.

Norway is the main financier of the Amazon Fund, which supported important projects until it was frozen by the interference of former minister Ricardo Salles, accused of trafficking wood to the United States.

More than the already significant money withdrawn from Vale, the influence and potential ripple effect caused by the Norwegian Sovereign Fund on other investors is immense. Other main investment funds, like Aviva, is also putting pressure on companies like Vale for a strong ESG approach.

Together with the veiled announcement of withdrawal of applications in indigenous lands, Vale announced the creation of an “Executive Vice-Presidency of Strategy and Business Transformation”, responsible for leading initiatives to “position Vale for the future”.

Among the objectives is to make Vale “a leader in low-carbon mining”. A random executive was not chosen to lead this area, but Luciano Siani Pires, who since 2012 occupied the position of Executive Vice President of Finance and Investor Relations. Luciano Siani, who dealt directly with investors, is one of Vale’s top executives.

Conflict with the Xikrin is far from a final solution. Vale’s nickel is exported to Europe.

Vale’s attempt to evade responsibility for the contamination caused by the Cateté River, where the Xikrin live, in the indigenous land that remained the main target of their requests, is nothing new.

Since Vale started operating this nickel mine beside the River Cateté, about ten years ago, the river water and its fish have been contaminated by heavy metals. Today, everyday activities of indigenous people such as fishing, transport, planting and even bathing can no longer take place in the same way.

“Children have died, people have skin diseases due to ore waste. Forest areas were being deforested without the consent of the indigenous communities (…) Vale simply removed without any authorization. We indigenous people try in every way to create a friendly dialogue with Vale, but Vale always takes a stand against our demands, not responding to our claims, appealing to the courts against our lawsuits”, reported the young indigenous leader Yan Xikrin for the 2020 “Complicity in Destruction” report.

Part of the nickel production that affects the lives of the Xikrin is destined for Europe, as reported by Repórter Brasil in 2021. Finnish company Outokumpu has bought the product produced by Vale several times since 2016. Outokumpu’s biggest shareholder is the Finnish government, which currently controls 20.29% of the company’s shares.

River pollution has been verified in a series of studies carried out since 2015 by the Energy and Environment Ore Treatment Group (GTEMA) of the Federal University of Pará (UFPA). In the study carried out in February 2020, they state that “100% of individuals have their bodies contaminated with at least one heavy metal, to an alarming degree. It highlights the excess of lead, mercury, manganese, aluminum and iron, which in some individuals, are at frightening levels.”

According to the researchers, “there is no longer any doubt about the responsibility of the Onça Puma project in contributing to the contamination of the Cateté River.” The researchers claim that “if no action is taken, we will be seeing the end of the Xikrin ethnic group.”

Vale denied the damages caused to Xikrin people

Asked to comment on the details of the request to withdraw from the applications at the ANM and the progress of the agreement with the Xikin, Vale continued to deny the impacts on the region’s rivers and reaffirmed that it will only try to mine in indigenous lands if a law authorizes it.

Read the mining company’s full note:

“Vale announces the withdrawal of all its mining processes in Indigenous Lands in Brazil, which includes research and mining requirements. The mining company, which does not carry out any mineral research or mining activities in Indigenous Lands (TIs) in Brazil, emphasizes that the decision is based on the understanding that mining in TIs can only be carried out through Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC), of the indigenous people themselves and legislation that allows and adequately regulates the activity. The recognition of the FPIC is essential to meet the rights of indigenous populations to determine their own development and the right to exercise self-determination in the face of decisions that affect their territories. In this way, the protection of individuals, their cultures and ways of life, as well as the protection of traditional indigenous lands and indigenous self-government, within the political model of sovereign states, are human rights protections.

 Between 2020 and 2021, Vale gave up 89 mining processes interfering with Indigenous Lands in Brazil, with the National Mining Agency (ANM). In the coming days, we will be filing withdrawals and resignations for the remaining group of mining processes, 15, these interfering with part of the Xikin do Cateté Indigenous Land. The company is now taking the necessary procedures with the National Mining Agency.

On the last issue, Vale is faithfully fulfilling all the commitments made in the Transitional Agreement and has been dialoguing with the indigenous people and the MPF, through periodic meetings in compliance with all COVID-19 protocols, to conclude an agreement that can extinguish the lawsuits, aiming to contribute to the ethno-development of the indigenous people and the adoption of actions for the quality of the environment.

 Regarding the alleged contamination of the Cateté River, Vale clarifies that the Onça Puma project, located approximately 33km away from the Kayapó Indigenous Land (TI) and outside the limits of the Xikrin TI, is licensed by Organs competent bodies and has resumed its regular activities from the decision of the President of the Supreme Federal Court (STF), in September 2019, ratified by the Plenary of the Court. The decision was based on seven reports prepared by judicial experts specialized in various scientific areas, with emphasis on those of limnology, geology and metallurgy, which fully demonstrated the inexistence of a relationship between the company’s activities and the alleged contamination of the Cateté River. It should be noted that the Itacaiúnas Basin, which houses the Cateté River, is located in a geological region where there is a natural presence of metals such as iron, nickel, copper, among others, in volumes greater than those provided for in the parameters of the legislation, as verified by the Environmental Impact Study (EIA) of the project, prepared in 2004, before, therefore, the beginning of the operation of Onça Puma, in 2008.”

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