The region of Corumba and Ladario, located in the Pantanal biome (Brazilian wetlands) of Mato Grosso do Sul, has the third largest reserve of iron ore in Brazil. The main iron ore mine of the region is the Morro do Urucum. It is estimated that the mountain contains 30 billion tons of jaspilite and 890 million tons of colluvial soil.
The jaspilite has an average of 54% of iron content, while the colluvial soil has in its composition 63% of iron, being considered of excellent quality by mining companies. In the 2000s, when a steel pole in the region was tested, industries installed in the region were found being fuelled by charcoal produced from native wood, in some cases through illegal logging and deforestation carried out within the lands of the Kadiwéu indigenous. Indigenous lands, although recognized, are in dispute and are occupied by farmers and ranchers. Many ranchers allowed the charcoal producers to access the woods in exchange of commissions and the opening of pastures.
Since the 2000s, the Brazilian State has systematically granted license for mineral extraction and stimulated the mining-metallurgical pole in the region, while also performing ad hoc surveillance actions that resulted in the imposition of fines and lawsuits. In January 2006, IBAMA identified deviations and imposed fines of US$ 1,370,000 on Urucum Mineracao and US$ 8,669,000 on Vetorial Siderúrgica Ltda. In 2007, on two occasions, IBAMA, in conjunction with the Federal Police and the Regional Labour Police station, caught MMX steel plant buying illegal charcoal and identified that it came from the Kadiwéu indigenous area. At the site, there were 12 ovens, 40 chainsaws, besides 900 hectares deforested.
The company was fined in US$ 400,000 by IBAMA [1, 2]. The area was occupied by farms, whose owners are in a court dispute with the indigenous over possession of lands. Thisdispute began more than 30 years ago in 1987 .
Due to concern with the environmental integrity of the Pantanal and the impacts of the mining-metallurgical complex on the indigenous peoples, environmental organizations and organizations of support of traditional communities have been active in the conflict. From 2008, the organization Ecologia e Ação (ECOA), the research group Articulação Mineração e Siderúrgia of Rede Brasileira de Justiça Ambiental (AMS-RBJA) and some of the communities gathered to exchange information about the local problems and strategies of struggle. As a result of an extensive local and national mobilization, environmental justice organizations succeeded in establishing a platform for dialogue with companies in order to minimize the impacts of the activity. As a result of this platform, companies financed the completion of a strategic environmental assessment (SEA) of the Mining-Industrial Pole of Corumbá which looked at their influences on the Pantanal biome. This study was conducted by researchers at the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) and pointed out a number of impacts on ecosystems and communities and simulated future scenarios for the region, also indicating measures for their mitigation and monitoring [5, 7].
In 2008 and 2009, the rising mining-metallurgical pole of Corumbá went through a restructuring period derived from the economic crisis and the negative international macroeconomic scenario, which reduced the international demand for commodities. In 2009, Vale acquired the iron ore operations belonging to Rio Tinto and MMX sold its steel plant to the Vetorial Group, maintaining only the operations of the iron ore mine – which was also suspended more than one time [8, 9, 3]. Unlike Rio Tinto, Vale had no intention of investing in the steel industry in the region, but rather predicted expanding its iron ore operations. In addition to the Morraria de Santa Cruz mine (also known as the Corumbaense Reunida Mining) acquired from Rio Tinto, Vale also produced iron ore and manganese ore in Corumbá, both extracted from the same Urucum Mine since 1981 [10, 11].
With the restructuring of the iron and steel complex in 2008-09, iron ore mining was intensified, while the development of a steel pole and also the demand for charcoal lost importance. Between 2007 and 2009, in the face of such transformations combined with intense inspection of deforestation by IBAMA, the production of charcoal was reduced by more than 70% . Since then, the main conflicts generated by mining in Corumbá are conflicts over water that, in any case, were already important before this restructuring process – mainly because the decreasing flow of water from streams and contamination of rivers [13, 4, 16]. The reduction of water from streams and worsening water quality affects the water supply of various communities. In the traditional Antônio Maria Coelho community, the population came to depend on the supply of kite trucks contracted by the mining company Vale. In 2014, the community decided to bear all costs for the construction of a water supply system, even without any financial help from the mining companies .