The mining company Sul Americana de Metais S.A. (SAM) was constituted by the Brazilian Votorantim Novos Negócios in 2006. In 2010, it was acquired by the Chinese company Honbridge Holding Limited. SAM's Vale do Rio Pardo project is a major enterprise that includes the extraction of 25 million tons of iron ore per year at a mine located in Grão Mogol and Padre Carvalho in Minas Gerais, the ore beneficiation also in Grão Mogol and the ore transportation to a port in Ilhéus (Bahia) by a mineroduct, measuring about 482 km, that will cross 21 municipalities of the states of Minas Gerais and Bahia. The project also includes the construction of three dams: one aiming to supply Grão Mogol, given that mining will cause population growth, a second for tailings, and the third for the processing of the ore and mineroduct .
The use of a transport logistics (mineroduct) that depends on an intense use of water to process and transport the ore in a semi-arid climate region is noteworthy. However, between 2006 and 2010, the enterprise received support from the population, who imagined that mining could bring development to the north of Minas Gerais. As of 2010, the mining company's research activities in the region and the impact on the land belonging to family farmers led to distrust of the community and to reaction in face of the possibility of dispossession. In 2010, Grão Mogol's farmers and residents of Vale das Canelas (urban area closest to the mine) consulted the Comissão Pastoral da Terra (CPT). Since then, a network was formed to support the community including trade union movements, NGOs, politicians and researchers. Among them are the Central Única dos Trabalhadores (CUT), Movimento dos Atingidos por Barragens (MAB), Geraizeiros em Movimento, Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (MST), researchers from the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais (UFMG) and the Universidade Estadual de Montes Claros (UNIMONTES) and Sindicatos de Trabalhadores Rurais (STR) from Grão Mogol, Fruta de Leite e Salinas .
In June 2012, a hearing was held by the Human Rights Commission of the Legislative Assembly of Minas Gerais in Grão Mogol to investigate allegations and complaints of abuses and land grabbing by MIBA and SAM mining companies. Minas Bahia (MIBA) also had an iron mining project in the region. A MAB (movement of those affected by dams) representative reported harassment and pressure from SAM on farmers in the region to sign research permit documents on their properties, as well as land grabbing involving the company . In January 2013, another public hearing was held by IBAMA in Grão Mogol to discuss the Vale do Rio Pardo Project with the civil society – as part of the of SAM’s request for the Preliminary License in the environmental licensing process. SAM staff presented the Project, which was mostly questioned by the population, especially in the way it was being led with invasions and damaging of properties, cutting of protected trees, etc. Researchers of UFMG questioned the Environmental Impact Study (EIA) for not identifying the existence of traditional populations living in the region . The "geraizeiros", traditional communities of the North of Minas Gerais, are characterized by planting in valleys and swamps and using the high plateaus (called "gerais") as large collective or communal areas for bringing up animals and collection of native fruits. They were officially protected by Presidential Decree No. 6,040, of February 7, 2007, which extended the scope of the National Policy for the Sustainable Development of Traditional Peoples and Communities (PNPCT). However, the advance of monoculture of eucalyptus and mining threaten the way of life of the geraizeiro people [4,5].
After the hearings, in February 2013, those affected (“atingidos”) by the Vale do Rio Pardo Project published a document denouncing the project, emphasizing the alledged history of social and environmental crimes of the Votorantim Group throughout Brazil (SAM was still part of Votorantim. of). The “atingidos” emphasized the crimes of the SAM company in the Vale do Rio Pardo Project, such as the cutting of trees such as the Pequi, the silting of properties, the opening of roads in places of difficult access and the contamination of streams. They were also concerned about the construction of the pipeline and the future access to water, which is already scarce in the region. Finally, they demanded the non-granting of the Preliminary License of the Vale do Rio Pardo venture to the SAM company, guaranteeing the right of those affected to say no to the venture, in addition to full compensation for losses already caused by the company . These demands were reinforced in a new public hearing in May 2013 in Belo Horizonte, organized by the Human Rights Commission of the Legislative Assembly of Minas Gerais .
However, in January 2014, the then governor of Minas Gerais, Antônio Anastásia, published Public Utility Decree (UPP), number 30, declaring of public utility the area to be used for the construction of the mineroduct of the Vale do Rio Pardo Project. This allowed the land expropriation in eight municipalities in the north of Minas Gerais for the construction of the SAM mineroduct. In response, hundreds of people “atingidos” by the mineroduct organized a protest in Salinas on June 2, 2014, saying no to the pipeline and claiming access to water, demanding the repeal of Decree number 30 and the end of SAM environmental licensing [7,8].
Finally, in 2016, IBAMA rejected the request for the Preliminary License (LP) of the Vale do Rio Pardo Project, presented by SAM. The technical opinion that supported the decision indicated that "the negative environmental impacts and risks to which neighboring communities and the environment may be exposed do not allow to approve the environmental viability of the project." Among the concerns were "the impacts related to water resources and air quality, which require complex mitigation measures.” Also they argued that “The project would result in the generation of very large volume of tailings, evidencing technological choice incompatible with the most modern mining techniques, which seek to minimize dependence on tailings dams" .
Even after this partial victory, the opposition of the “atingidos” was not reduced. In March 2016, World Water Day, peasants threatened by eucalyptus and mining met and produced a declaration contesting the Vale do Rio Pardo Project. In the same year, 20 families from the communities “geraizeras” of Buriti, Tingui, Córrego do Engenho, São Lourenço and Bonfim Estreito occupied an area of Buriti Pequeno farm to claim the traditional territory of the geraizeros in the region. In February 2017, the Archdiocese of Montes Claros held the "I Seminar on Church, Mineration and Laity", which was attended by social pastoralists, bishops and social movements and affected by mining in the North of Minas Gerais .