Belo Sun: at the worst moment of the pandemic, Brazilian government authorizes in-person meeting between mining company and impacted Indigenous peoples

Amazon Watch

Brazil’s National Indian Foundation claims lack of internet connection and completion of vaccination of Indigenous people, however, 77% of the Indigenous people received the first vaccine jab in the region, and only 34% the second dose. About 994 indigenous Brazilians have died since the COVID-19 pandemic began last March

Brazil (Altamira, Pará) March 11, 2021 – In a white paper published on February 10, 2021, the Brazilian National Indian Foundation (Fundação Nacional do Índio–FUNAI) gave details on "health protocols" so that Canadian mining company Belo Sun can hold meetings to present and validate its studies on environmental impact to Indigenous residents from the Indigenous Lands (ILs) located in Pará state - Arara da Volta Grande do Xingu and Paquiçamba - in a mixed format—in-person and virtually. 

The decision is taken at a time when the country faces the bleakest moment of the coronavirus pandemic, with Indigenous peoples being one of the most impacted and vulnerable groups. Brazil has recorded more than 266,000 deaths and 11 million cases since the pandemic began. About 994 indigenous Brazilians have died since the COVID-19 pandemic began last March, according to a tally by APIB, Brazil’s largest indigenous association. Altamira, a reference city for both ILs, has recorded 19,100 cases so far. Moreover, the regional hospital occupancy rate has exceeded 90%.

It is expected that, after validation of the indigenous component of the Environmental Impact Study (EIA), the Installation License, suspended by the courts since 2017, will be re-issued by the Pará State Environment Secretariat (Secretaria de Meio Ambiente–SEMA).

The Federal Public Defender's Office (DPU) addressed FUNAI on Wednesday (March 10) recommending that the agency do not authorize or participate in in-person meetings while the Covid-19 pandemic poses a threat to the Indigenous peoples of the region. According to the document, the proposal presented by the company "does not guarantee health security and the preservation of the lives of participants, and is based on information that is not compatible with the situation of the pandemic in the Altamira region."

According to FUNAI, “different meetings are being planned for each IL, on consecutive dates (...), and the talks, at least partially in-person, are desirable, maintaining the format adopted throughout the process and which ensured a very fruitful consultation and dialogue process.”

The company is intent on becoming the largest open pit gold mining company in Brazil, and intends to operate out of Volta Grande do Xingu, one of the most biodiverse sites in the world that already experiences the impacts of the diversion of the Xingu River by the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant. In addition to the Juruna (Yudjá) and Arara ethnicities, the region is home to other non-villagers and several riverside communities. Contrary to what the company claims, the Indigenous peoples of Volta Grande have not yet been properly consulted.

“Volta Grande do Xingu has already been dealing with the impacts of the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant. At this time, the Brazilian authorities should guarantee the protection of Indigenous peoples and address the serious technical shortcomings in the project. Authorizing in-person meetings makes it clear which side both FUNAI and the Brazilian government are on: that of the big mining companies,” notes Rosana Miranda of Amazon Watch, the organization is part of the group of institutions that have been denouncing the socio-environmental unfeasibility of Belo Sun’s project.

FUNAI's decision is based on the assumption that the indigenous population would have been vaccinated by the end of January 2021. By early March, however, 77% of the Indigenous people served by the Altamira Special Indigenous Health District (Distrito Sanitário Especial Indígena–DSEI) received the first vaccine jab, and only 34% the second dose.

According to data from the federal government surveyed by G1, on February 17, 71% of Indigenous people living in the Amazon had not been vaccinated against Covid. At the time, Brazil should have immunized 431,983 Indigenous people against the virus, however, only 164,592 had been vaccinated. The low vaccination coverage of Indigenous peoples is yet another chapter in the neglect of the federal government’s management of the pandemic. This is made clear by the increase in the number of deaths by Covid-19 among Indigenous populations by more than 108%, according to data from the Association of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB). Nearly 50,000 Indigenous people were infected and 988 died, according to APIB. 

The mining company expects to extract 74 tons of gold in 20 years of operation, one of the largest in Latin America. The mining company has been striving to deny the potential impacts on Indigenous peoples, traditional communities and the environment since it announced its project in 2012.

Three recent expert opinions attest that the project is not viable from a socio-environmental perspective and raise several technical issues regarding the impact studies on the Indigenous component [Access the documents]. Neither FUNAI nor SEMAS have responded to the technical inquiries made by the specialists. [See here the studies: 1,2,3]

The expert opinions add up to examinations conducted by the Federal Public Prosecutor and the Pará State Public Defender's Office within the scope of at least six legal challenges against the project. The studies, carried out by independent researchers, are part of the efforts of several civil society organizations that have been denouncing the socio-environmental unfeasibility of the project, such as Rede Xingu +, Movimento Xingu Vivo para Sempre, Amazon Watch, Instituto Socioambiental (ISA), International Rivers, Above Ground and Inter-American Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA).

Mining companies and the Brazilian government take part in meeting in Canada

This Thursday, March 11, marks the end of the convention of the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC), an annual gathering where major investors and mining companies from Canada present “new business opportunities in the sector for the next decades.”

With a busy schedule, the Brazilian government has Belo Sun Mining among its main sponsors for the event. In a pre-recorded presentation for the event, the Minister of Mines and Energy, Bento Albuquerque, stated that the Brazilian government is determined to expand access to mineral resources currently restricted to mining—such as Indigenous Lands and border areas. Belo Sun's CEO Peter Tagliamonte is listed as a speaker on the March 11 session entitled The Brazilian Mineral Exploration & Mining Industry Projects & Opportunities, organized by the Brazilian government.

Media Contact