Brazil’s Amazon bishops have blamed the mining disaster in Brazil, in which 58 people were killed, on weak regulation, and have expressed concern that the Brazilian government policy of opening up the Amazon to economic development puts at risk its biodiversity and indigenous populations.
An 86-metre-high dam, holding mine waste at a mining complex near Brumadinho, burst on 25 January, spewing millions of tons of treacherous sludge over the surrounding area. More than 300 people are missing and 58 confirmed dead. The iron ore mine is owned by Vale, a company seeing their second major dam disaster in three years.
In a statement dated 25 January and signed by the president of the Brazilian section of the Church’s international Amazon network, REPAM, Cardinal Cláudio Hummes, archbishop emeritus of São Paulo, the bishops said: “This activity ignores the Church’s guidelines, which encourage an economy at the service of human life and of ecosystems with their great bio-diversity. It is not possible to dissociate the events of last Friday from the Mariana disaster [in 2015]… This is one more environmental crime produced and fostered by the impunity in the previous case… It is noteworthy that the licensing conditions for the Córrego do Feijão mine and its tailings dam are imprecise and contradictory.”
In a clear message to recently elected Brazilian President, Jair Bolsonaro, who has promised to reduce regulation, the statement continues: “We also consider it important to stress that we are in a political context of relaxation of environmental laws and the dismantling of the procedures for environmental licensing. Awareness of this situation must also be focused on the Amazon region, the new mining frontier coveted by international groups and being offered by the Brazilian government as a gift at the expense of the traditional populations and putting at risk the indigenous lands already protected by law.”
“This new disaster shows that mining is based on a development model which is unsustainable and lethal” the Churches and Mining Network in Brazil said. Their representative, Franciscan Fr Rodrigo Peret, said the disaster was “evidence of the way the authorities and mining companies systematically ignore the constant denunciations made by community, civil society organisations and social movements”.
President Bolsonaro flew over the devastated zone on 26 January, later tweeting that it was "difficult to not be emotional before this scene." He promised “to determine the facts, to demand justice and prevent new tragedies".
Pope Francis offered prayers and solidarity for the victims of the disaster.