The Volta Grande mine site.
In March 2014, The Council of Canadians joined the Belo Sun No! campaign opposing Toronto-based Belo Sun Mining Corp.’s plans to build the massive Volta Grande open-pit gold mine in Brazil. The mine would be located just 100 metres from the Xingu River, a southern tributary of the Amazon River in the state of Para.
The Indigenous Juruna and Arara peoples rely on the Xingu River for their drinking water and for fishing.
These peoples are already downstream from the Belo Monte dam now under construction and expected to be completed in 2019. Indigenous peoples were not consulted on this dam even though the flooding for its 500 square kilometre reservoir will affect the territories of the Kayapos, Araweté, IgarapéIpixuna, Koatinemo, Arara and Kararaô peoples.
The dam will keep the Xingu River at a consistently low level thus impacting the Juruna and Arara peoples.
While Belo Sun would use cyanide leeching as part of the mining process, the company says this poses no threat to the ecosystem. The company also promises that the mine’s tailings ponds would not leach into the surrounding land or river. Furthermore, the company claims that since the mine site would be 11 kilometres or more from the land of the Juruna and Arara peoples that a Brazilian law that requires an impact study on communities within a 10 kilometre area is not applicable. The Juruna and Arara peoples say their lands are located 9.5 km and 13.7 km respectively from the mine site.
In November 2013, a federal court suspended the company’s environmental permit because it had not analyzed the mine’s potential impact on Indigenous peoples. The Globe and Mail has reported, “The judge said that the mine stood to cause ‘negative and irreversible damage to the quality of life and cultural heritage’ of the Juruna and Arara peoples and that Belo Sun must complete a study of this issue before it can proceed.”
By December 2013 that ruling had been appealed and overturned.
Now, The Globe and Mail reports, “A Brazilian appeals court has upheld the suspension of a key licence for [the mine]. The decision sets the project back at least a year, and in their ruling, the three-judge tribunal blasted the company for failing to consult Indigenous people sufficiently.”
The article adds, “The decision, delivered on December 6 by the Federal Tribunal of the First Region, in Brasilia, upholds an April suspension order for the company’s installation licence. The tribunal said that Belo Sun had failed to fulfill obligations, repeatedly made clear after previous court challenges, to study the impact of their planned 175,443-hectare open-pit mine on the Juruna people, who live approximately 10 kilometres downriver from the site of the Volta Grande project, and must do so according to a ‘consultation protocol’ laid out by the Juruna themselves.”
The Brazilian Mining Association says Belo Sun should appeal the ruling at the Supreme Court. Brazilian President Michel Temer has introduced bills to reduce regulatory procedures for mining companies and to reduce the royalty levels that they pay that are both expected to pass next week.