When it comes to fighting for a healthy environment and against harmful projects, Bosnia and Herzegovina is not alone. The same or similar struggles are waged throughout Europe and the world. Local communities are standing up and uniting against investors whose projects threaten their environment. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for human lives to be lost in accidents caused by harmful projects, and those responsible do not suffer the consequences. In South America, examples like this are not uncommon.
One such case, reported by all the world media, happened in Brazil last year, when, after a dam broke out in the small town of Brumadinho, located in the south eastern region of Minas Gerais, 272 people were killed and 11 are yet to be found. The dam collapsed on January 25, 2019, and unleashed tons of mud or sludge that spilled from an iron ore mine owned by the multinational company Vale
Tons of sludge stormed the area, covering roads and settlements. State officials told the media at the time that everything was pointing out that the dam burst was due to a liquidation process in which the solid material was converted to liquid.
The multinational company Vale, which is one of the worlds largest iron miners and the owner of a mine in Brumadinho, claims that the dam was under constant control and that no instrument
Responsible for the disaster in Mariana also
Three years ago, Vale also hit news headlines over a similar accident. In Mariana, located in the same region as Brumadinjo, a support dam burst that was part of an iron mine that they owned. At that time, 19 people died and the Doce River was contaminated for 650 kilometres.
Even a year after the accident, Vale avoids taking responsibility. Given that this company is majority owned by the Brazilian state, the problem is even more complex. To mark the one-year anniversary of this tragedy, and to highlight the fact that those responsible are not facing the consequences , a five-day march was organised in January this year, in which hundreds of people from Brazil and around the world marched from Belo Horizonte to Brumadinho to commemorate the victims.
The organisers of this march, the Brazilian Movement of People Affected by Dams (MAB) organisation, have invited partner environmental organisations and human rights organisations from around the world to join them and raise their voices with this march against injustice which happened in Brazil. A number of activists, groups and individuals from South America and Europe, including a representative from the Environmental Centre, responded to their call.
Marching through the centre of the tragedy
During the five-day march, participants visited those communities that suffered the most damage, which are located in the Paraopebe River coastline into which the sludge spilled after the dam broke in Brumadinho. They also exchanged experiences about the struggle for nature and people and sent a common message that such crimes against nature and man cannot go unpunished.
Environment and the Coalition for Rivers of BiH, of which he is the coordinator.
“The residents of these local communities are experiencing a horror story; their villages are reminiscent of post-apocalyptic communities. It is a disgrace that Vale did not yet respond to, or bear any consequences, one year since this horrific crime. I spent five days on the march with young people who do everything they do from the heart, and what impressed me most was their strength and boundless empathy”, Orlić said. During the five days of marching, the participants also visited the small local community of Corrego do Feijao, which was the first to be impacted after the Brumadinho Dam collapsed. This community has suffered heavy losses, including human casualties, but survivors do not want to leave, even though they suffer blackmail.
“After the crime, Vale is working to completely eliminate the Feijao community. They don’t want us here, because then there will be no one to remind the public of this disaster.
They close our shops and pay people to leave their homes. If they close our school, we will lose our community. If we are not united, Vale will buy us all individually and get us out of here forever, “said Adilson Lopes Silva, a Corrego do Feijao resident who also participated in the march.
We can do a lot alone, but together we can do anything
“A Vale destroi, oh povo constroi!” is the slogan that has followed this whole struggle of the people against the company Vale, and in translation it means “Vale destroys, and the people build”. The MAB made it clear that the local communities are not alone and do not intend to stop until the case was resolved and Vale was held responsible for its crimes against people, rivers and nature.
In support of this statement there is the “Solidarity House,” which the MAB is building for one family which has lost its home after the dam broke in Mariana in 2015. The money raised to build this house, as its name implies, is the fruit of the solidarity of the people with those who need help. The MAB argues that this is an example to companies of how they should be held accountable for their actions.
The organisers of the march, along with colleagues from the Movement Against Atrocities & Repression (MAR), European movements and the people of the Paraopeba River coast, called on officials at the end of the march to provide neutral technical service to assist the devastated local communities in the reconstruction process. They warned that they should not stop the search for the 11 missing persons, and that Vale must continue to pay compensation to the families of the dead.
“There was so much courage, desire and community at every turn that, as much as it seemed that the fight against the goliath of capitalism made no sense and was lost in advance, no one was even thinking of giving up. That’s the basic message I brought from Brazil – we can do a lot ourselves, but we can do everything together“, concludes Miloš Orlić.