Prosecutors push to have Mariana victims get $465 mi in compensation

A new motion targets the mining firms held accountable for the tragedy

Published in 06/10/2021 - 14:43 By Léo Rodrigues - Rio de Janeiro

Prosecutors in Minas Gerais announced Tuesday (Oct. 5) that a motion for liquidation and sentence execution has been filed against Samarco, Vale, and BHP Billiton. The request stipulates that $465 million must be immediately earmarked for the compensation of the people in Mariana, one of the cities in Minas Gerais state affected by the collapse of a tailings dam in November 2015. The move should benefit approximately 1.3 thousand families.

In November, six years will have elapsed since the tragedy occurred. As per estimates from the state’s Prosecution Service, less than 30 percent of the victims have been compensated. The dam collapse caused a wave of sludge that swept over a number of municipalities in Minas Gerais and its neighboring state Espírito Santo through the Doce river basin. Furthermore, 19 people died.

The structure belonged to Samarco, which has Vale and BHP Billiton as shareholders. To repair the damage, the three companies in March 2016 signed a Transaction and Conduct Adjustment Term (TTAC) with the Brazilian government and the governments of Minas Gerais and Espírito Santo. The agreement also included the creation of the Renova Foundation, tasked with managing over 40 programs to redress the environmental and socioeconomic impact.

Área afetada pelo rompimento de barragem no distrito de Bento Rodrigues, zona rural de Mariana, em Minas Gerais
Bento Rodrigues devastated by the flood of muck. - Antonio Cruz/ Agência Brasil

Reparation

The foundation’s efforts in the city of Mariana includes measures like individual and collective compensation, emergency allowances, the reconstruction of communities, and the reestablishment of rural productive properties. The work has been met with criticism from prosecutors as well as associations representing those affected. The new move only concerns the individual compensation of victims living in the city.

In Mariana, the reparation motion is special in its kind, as it is considered by state court authorities, whereas federal courts were charged with the case in other municipalities in the Doce river basin. Regarding individual compensation, Prosecutor Guilherme Meneghin argues that an October 2018 deal—in which mining companies were to bring forward proposals in up to 90 days after the registration of the affected—has not been observed, as the deadline has been thoroughly ignored. “Companies continue reluctant in paying and recognizing the affected,” he went on to say.

A number of attempts are reported to have been made over the last year to ensure the 2018 agreement was fulfilled. Families are said to have been waiting for a proposal for nearly a year. “The obligation was not executed in its entirety, not is near completion, which is why this request for liquidation and sentence execution is being lodged,” prosecutors state in the motion.

Reconstruction

The payment of individual compensation is just one of the bottlenecks in the reparation of Mariana. Another problem regards the reconstruction of the districts Bento Rodrigues and Paracatu, devastated by the flood of muck. Nearly six years after the tragedy, the work is far from over.

In March this year, when no more than seven of all 306 housing units to be built were concluded, prosecutors filed a request for a fine on delays. In another motion, lodged in February this year and temporarily suspended by the Supreme Court, Minas Gerais prosecutors go as far as to ask for the shutdown of the Renova Foundation.

Contacted by Agência Brasil, Vale, Samarco, and BHP Billiton declared they have not been notified of the motion. The three firms said they are committed to the wholesale reparation of the damage caused by the collapse. Thus far, Samarco stated, over 330 thousand people have been compensated across the Doce river basin. To finance all program initiatives stipulated, the company said over $2.85 billion have been directed to the Renova Foundation.

Translation: Fabrício Ferreira -  Edition: Aline Leal / Nira Foster

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