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Copper mining in Canaã dos Carajás and Marabá, Pará, Brazil


In Brazil, the mining company Vale operates two copper mining projects in the Carajás region (Pará), where Vale has concentrated its investments in recent years based on the extraction of iron ore, nickel and manganese. 

The Sossego project started to operate in 2004 and it is located in the municipality of Canaã dos Carajás. Salobo started eight years later in the National Forest Tapirapé-Aquiri in the municipality of Marabá, also in the state of Pará [1]. The construction of the Sossego mine began in 2001. Canaã dos Carajás was then a rural town that had arisen as a result of the implementation of agrarian reform projects in the region during the 1980s. The installation of Sossego was accompanied by increasing pressure for small producers to sell their lands. Throughout the 2000s, Vale also started investments in the S11D iron ore project - the largest iron project in the world - in the same municipality, aggravating the situation of land reform settlers and small producers. It is estimated that approximately one third of the territory of the municipality was acquired by Vale. However, Vale's ownership of land is questioned in many cases. According to José Batista Afonso, a lawyer of Comissão Pastoral da Terra (CPT), Vale irregularly bought public lands, many of them occupied by agrarian reform settlers. Land acquisitions, possibly many of them untitled, for the construction of the Sossego mine began in the 1990s. This lack of information on the land situation in Canaã dos Carajás, which includes many of the areas acquired by Vale, generates great insecurity for the settlers, hindering rural production and aggravating land conflicts in the region [3, 4, 5]. In addition, settlers would also be the first victims in case of a tailing dam failure in Sossego. The Palmares II settlement, of the Landless Workers Movement (MST), would be the first site hit [9]. Besides land conflicts, Sossego has polluted rivers with toxic effluents and damaged house structures by explosions in the mine. According to Volnei, a former Vale employee: "For copper extraction, they use hydrochloric acid and mercury, which leak into the rivers killing everything" [6]. 

In 2004, Vale launched Sossego tailings that should have been confined to artificial lakes directly in the Carajás National Forest. For the damage caused in the Forest, Vale received a fine of US $ 500,000 from IBAMA, but never paid it. Luiz Felippe Kunz Jr., director of IBAMA, believes that Vale does not sign the conversion term of the fine needed to pay it because "in this case they would become confessed defendants in relation to the damage caused, which is not good for the image of a company concerned with the environment" [2]. 

In 2002, while the construction of the Sossego mine advanced, Vale bought the entire stake held by Anglo American at Salobo Metais. With this acquisition, Vale held, directly or indirectly through subsidiaries, 100% of Salobo's capital stock. Ten years later, IBAMA granted an operating license to Salobo. The construction of the structures for the copper extraction, processing and transportation lasted five years from 2007 to 2012 [12, 13]. However, all the licensing process was subject of denunciations by the indigenous Xikrin community. They argue that a basic principle of indigenous rights – the right to be heard on any enterprise that affects its territory, its way of life or its culture –, inscribed in the Federal Constitution and object of an international norm (Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization), of which Brazil is a signatory, has not been respected [7]. 

A study of the impact of the Salobo project on the indigenous community was not carried out. Although it is outside the legal limits of indigenous lands, the area in which the project was installed is considered by the Xikrin of ancestral use. Every year, between November and March, the Xikrin leave the indigenous land "Xikrin do Cateté" and go to the National Forest Tapirapé-Aquiri, where is located one of the best chestnut trees in the area. In the region, Xikrin young people also train to become warriors. They received teachings on the cultural and traditional knowledge related to hunting, fishing and collecting in the forest. Finally, there was also a cemetery in the areas impacted by Salobo, where the indigenous peoples used to perform an annual ritual [7, 10, 11]. Between 2009 and 2018, in these areas of economic and cultural importance for the Xikrin, Vale opened clearings through which the power transmission lines, the pipeline and the Salobo road pass, knocking down about 300 chestnut trees, along with the rest of the forest on these routes [7]. In July 2018, when Salobo's operating license expired, the Xikrin filed a lawsuit to prevent renewal of the license. This process adds up to the other 14 active processes between the Xikrin and Vale. In addition to Salobo, the Xikrin are impacted by the nickel mining from the Onça Puma mine and iron ore operations, Ferro Carajás and S11D, among others operations. However, impact studies and court rulings never take into account the aggregate and cumulative impact of all Vale's operations on Xikrin indigenous [7].

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Copper mining in Canaã dos Carajás and Marabá, Pará, Brazil
State or province:Pará
(municipality or city/town)Canaã dos Carajás and Marabá
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict: 1st level:Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction
Type of conflict: 2nd level :Tailings from mines
Mineral processing
Specific commodities:Copper

Project Details and Actors

Project details:

The Sossego project began to produce in 2004. It has a nominal capacity of approximately 93,000 tons per year (tpa) of copper concentrates. Vale (then CVRD) invested US $ 413 million in its development [15, 1]. The proven and probable reserves are 244.7 million tons of copper ore, in addition to another 125 million tons inferred. At current extraction levels, production was predicted to last 15 years, meaning its depletion was originally estimated for 2019, but it will be extended probably for another ten years as geological surveys continue.

The Salobo I processing plant started production in 2012. In this first phase, Vale's investment was US $ 2.5 billion. For the expansion of production, with the installation of Salobo II, Vale invested an additional US $ 1.7 billion. And now, with the expansion to Salobo III, Vale will invest more than $ 1 billion again [14]. Salobo I and II have a total capacity of approximately 197,000 tpy of copper concentrates [1]. Salobo's reserves include 1.112 billion metric tonnes of proven and probable tonnes, with an average of 0.69% copper and 0.43 grams of gold per ton [13].

Salobo and Sossego involve the integrated operation of open pit mining, processing, transportation and shipping. Production is carried by road, from the mine to Vale's existing rail terminal in Parauapebas (PA), from where it is transported by the Carajás Railroad to the maritime terminal of Ponta da Madeira (MA) [1].

Project area:200,000
Level of Investment:5,500,000,000.00
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:10,000
Start of the conflict:01/01/2000
Company names or state enterprises:Vale (Vale) from Brazil
Salobo Metais S.A. from Brazil
Anglo American Brasil from United Kingdom - Shareholder until 2002.
Relevant government actors:Ibama - Instituto Brasileiro do Meio Ambiente e dos Recursos Naturais Renováveis
International and Finance InstitutionsBanco Nacional de Desenvolvimento Econômico e Social (BNDES) from Brazil
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Comissão Pastoral da Terra (CPT) -

Justiça nos Trilhos -

Conflict and Mobilization

IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local ejos
Landless peasants
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Land occupation
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Objections to the EIA

Impacts of the project

Environmental ImpactsVisible: Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Potential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Mine tailing spills
Health ImpactsPotential: Accidents, Malnutrition, Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..), Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: displacement, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Increase in violence and crime, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..)


Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
Court decision (undecided)
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Despite numerous objections to Salobo's environmental licensing, especially by the indigenous Xikrin community, Vale continues to operate and expand copper extraction. At the same time, the uncertainty and complexity of land ownership in Canaã de Carajás, where Sossego operates, has only been aggravated by the installation of Vale's S11D iron ore mine in recent years.

Sources and Materials

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[1] Vale. Formulário de Referência. 2018.

[3] Cabral, E. R., Enríquez, M. A. R. D. S., Santos, D. V. D. Canaã dos Carajás-do leite ao cobre: transformações estruturais do município após a implantação de uma grande mina. CETEM/MCTI. 2001.

[10] Faustino, C., Furtado, F. Mineração e Violações de Direitos: O Projeto Ferro Carajás S11D, da Vale S.A. Açailândia (MA), DHesca Brasil, 2013.

[11] I Encontro Internacional dos Atingidos pela Vale. Dossiê dos impactos e violações da Vale no mundo. Rio de Janeiro, abril de 2010.

[5] Enríquez, M.A. (Coord.). Contradições do desenvolvimento e o uso da CFEM em Canaã dos Carajás. Rio de Janeiro: Instituto Brasileiro de Análises Sociais e Econômicas, 2018.

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

[4] El País. Os sem-terra desafiam a gigante Vale na Amazônia. Talita Bedinelli. 12 dez 2016.

[6] Fundação Rosa Luxemburgo. A ferro e fogo – uma jornada no rastro dos trilhos da Vale. 26 de agosto de 2015

[7] Agência Pública. Indígenas Xikrin abrem nova batalha judicial contra a Vale. Nara Hoifmeister. 30 jul 2018

[8] Portal Canaã. Salobo bate recorde e já produz quase o dobro do Projeto Sossego. Seny Lima. 16.02.2018

[9] Brasil de Fato. Vidas atravessadas: como a Vale afeta o cotidiano de indígenas e sem-terra no Pará. Joana Zanotto. 21 fev. 2019.

[13] Vale. Vale obtém licença de operação para Salobo. 14.11.2012.

[14] Correio. Portal de Carajás. O bem e o mal de Salobo III. 20.09.2018.

[15] Vale. CVRD Inaugura o Projeto Sossego. 02.07.2004.

[2]Piauí. A Vale é verde? As ambigüidades ambientais da segunda mineradora do mundo. Luiz Maklouf Carvalho. Março de 2017.

[12] Vale. CVRD conclui aquisição do controle do projeto Salobo. 19.06.2002.

Other documents

Xikrin indigenous community Xikrin indigenous community affected by the Salobo project.

Available at:ás_2.jpg

Palmares II settlement in Canaã dos Carajás (Pará) Geny in the Palmares II settlement in Canaã dos Carajás (Pará)

Available at:

Meta information

Contributor:Beatriz Macchione Saes, UFF-Brazil, [email protected]
Last update04/03/2019



Xikrin indigenous community

Xikrin indigenous community affected by the Salobo project. Available at:

Palmares II settlement in Canaã dos Carajás (Pará)

Geny in the Palmares II settlement in Canaã dos Carajás (Pará) Available at: