The Volta Grande mining project, by Canadian mining company Belo Sun Mining Corp., is intent in becoming the largest open pit gold mine in the country. Among the various problematic issues surrounding the project, the magnitude of its impacts (video) will occur in the same region recently impacted by the construction of the Belo Monte Hydroelectric Power Plant (HEP), which is in the monitoring stage at least until 2025, due to the instabilities in terms of environmental impacts that the plant has been causing. In this way, while Belo Monte represents an element that makes the exploration of the Volta Grande Project environmentally very risky, Belo Sun also represents a new element to be considered by Belo Monte in the calculations of projected impacts on the environment and communities in the region.
The project is located in the municipality of Senador José Porfírio (PA), less than 50 km from the main dam of the HEP Belo Monte and less than 9.5 km from the Indigenous Territory (IT) Paquiçamba. The Belo Sun company announced on its website that during the 11 years of operation, 39,767 megatonnes of rock will be removed; however, the studies presented in the environmental licensing only provide for the removal of 2.78 megatonnes.
According to the mining company's studies, the investment in the gold ore extraction and processing project will be of approximately US$ 1,076,724,000.00. As for the installation of the project, costs are US$ 380,077,000.00.
Access the Belo Sun process at SEMAS/PA here
The Volta Grande do Xingu Mining Project is expected to use cyanide in ore extraction—an extremely toxic substance for the soil and water resources—and the project’s environmental studies wans of the risk of the dam collapsing during the operation and closing phases, rating it as “High Risk.”
Among the impacts, we highlight the alteration in the reproductive cycle of the fauna, alteration in the traditional regime of use and occupation of the territory, contamination or intoxication by harmful substances, deforestation and/or burning, lack of / irregularity in the authorization or environmental licensing, lack of / irregularity in the demarcation of traditional territory, pollution of water resource, soil pollution.
Watch the video on Belo Sun's impacts and violations here
Background and current situation
In 2012, Belo Sun presented its Environmental Impact Study (EIA) and Environmental Impact Report (RIMA). However, in 2013 the Federal Prosecution Office filed a Public-Interest Civil Action (ACP) in the Federal Court of Altamira, which demanded that Indigenous Component Studies (ECI) be carried out in order to identify the impacts that will occur on indigenous communities with the installation of the project. As the ECI was not presented, the Preliminary License (LP) was suspended by a court decision in 2014.
In February 2017, the mining company obtained the Installation License (IL), but in April of the same year, this license was suspended in court, as the Indigenous Component Study (ECI) was considered unsuitable by the National Indian Foundation (Fundação Nacional do Índio – FUNAI), and needs to be redone. In December of the same year, the Federal Appellate Court of the 1st Region ( TRF-1) confirmed the suspension of the IL, as the company did not carry out the Free, Prior and Informed Consultation (FPIC ) with the indigenous communities affected by the project. In this decision, the Appellate Court ordered that FPIC be carried out respecting the consultation protocols of the affected indigenous peoples.
According to the Federal Prosecution Office, "The mining company and the state of Pará appealed several times against the obligation to carry out the studies and also against the prior consultation, but lost all appeals. Against today's decision [6 December 2017], appeal can only be made to the Federal Supreme Court. For licensing to be resumed, prior, free and informed consultation will have to be conducted."
Between January and February 2018, in the middle of winter in the Amazon, Instituto Socioambiental (ISA)'s radar monitoring system, SiradX, detected that more than 6,200 hectares of forests were destroyed to make way for agriculture and livestock and illegal mining in the Xingu River basin. Among the most deforested Indigenous Territories (IT) is Ituna/Itatá, a territory of isolated indigenous peoples, where degradation has increased exponentially since the construction of the Belo Monte hydroelectric power plant, and now the Belo Sun project is attempting to get installed to the north of the IT.
In May 2018, Conectas Human Rights denounced Belo Sun to the United Nations (UN), due to the threats and aggressions that have been incited or committed directly by civil servants of the town of Senador José Porfírio and their allies against members of the Movimento Xingu Vivo Para Sempre, a collective created to defend human and environmental rights in the Volta Grande do Xingu region, and the Cooperativa Mista dos Garimpeiros da Ressaca, Galo, Ouro Verde e Ilha da Fazenda, which organizes and defends the interests of artisanal mining workers in the Volta Grande do Xingu region.
In September 2018, the federal judge of Altamira suspended all activities of the project until the licensing process is regularized at the federal level, that is, carried out by IBAMA.
In August 2019, the District Attorney’s Office of the state of Pará filed a Public-Interest Environmental Civil Action requesting the federalization of the environmental licensing process for the project as well as the cancellation of all licenses already issued by SEMAS/PA.
In November 2019, the Court of Justice of the State of Pará suspended the Installation License (IL) of the mining project, granted in the lawsuit in process at the Secretariat of the Environment and Sustainability of the State of Pará (SEMAS), until compliance with conditions 29 and 30, which require that the families under the indirect influence area of the Volta Grande project be duly resettled and that the mining company submit regular reports on the status of the process of relocation of the affected traditional populations
Throughout 2019, the company JGP, hired by Belo Sun, carried out the indigenous component impact studies after approval of the Term of Reference by FUNAI. These three studies, for Paquiçamba IT, Arara da Volta Grande impact studies and Ituna Itatá IT—were submitted to FUNAI in early 2020 and are pending evaluation by the indigenist agency. Several studies and information requested by the Jurunas in meetings with JGP were not carried out and are not included in the final version of the indigenous component impact study submitted to FUNAI.
In October 2019 and February 2020, non-settled indigenous communities of Volta Grande requested free, prior and informed consultation regarding ILO Convention 169, still with no response from FUNAI and the company Belo Sun—Letter Jericoá, Letter São Francisco e Letter Iawá Gleba Paquiçamba,
In June 2020, three official documents were submitted to FUNAI and SEMAS alongside scientific reports from independent researchers pointing out gaps in the Indigenous Component Studies (EIA-CI) and methodological flaws that compromise the feasibility analysis of the project—the first addressing gaps in fishing and chelonians; the second on dam safety aspects; and the third on geological aspects that also imply dam safety, from AIDA. The three official letters require additional studies without which FUNAI's analysis of the merits of the indigenous component would be compromised.
In the last week of July 2020, FUNAI published Technical Information No. 63/2020 of the General Coordination of Environmental Licensing (CGLIC), which examined the Indigenous Component of the Belo Sun Environmental Impact Study. In the document, FUNAI concluded that a reassessment of the study from a broader perspective is necessary, as it is a large-scale project that needs to take into account the local, regional and national context, in addition to the impact synergy, especially with BR- 230 and the Belo Monte HPP.
The indigenist agency consented to the concerns of the indigenous people and the points presented in the independent scientific reports, demanding that Belo Sun, for example, provide a detailed Mine Closure Plan, an aspect not properly presented in the Environmental Impact Study. FUNAI requests, among others, clarification on water collection for the project, and on the possibility of arsenic contamination from sterile piles. Finally, it concludes that the report is not yet considered suitable to be presented to the indigenous peoples of the Arara da Volta Grande do Xingu and Paquiçamba ITs due to the need of complementary data for the studies.
In August 2020, based on the scientific report produced by AIDA, the Public Defender's Office of Pará filed a Public Civil Action against SEMAS-PA and Belo Sun, requesting the suspension of the licensing and the nullity of the EIA-RIMA and all acts subsequent in the process for violating the right to the traditional territory (possession and property) of the riverside peoples of Volta Grande and the right to free, prior and informed consultation guaranteed in Convention no. 169 of the ILO to these peoples.
On November 20, 2020, FUNAI issued the Technical Information 270/2020 claiming that the Indigenous Component Studies were approved to be presented to the indigenous people. According to the indigenist agency, the complementation requested in IT 63/2020 by the technical staff of FUNAI itself could be detailed in the revision of the Indigenous Component Studies “after the presentation of the report to the indigenous people and after their deliberation regarding the approval of the report, along with any possible complementary information requested by the indigenous people.”
On February 26, 2020, FUNAI sent an official letter to SEMAS and Belo Sun with its “Safety Protocol for Activities with Indigenous Communities During the Coronavirus – COVID-19 Pandemic,” which must be observed in meetings, whether in-person or by video conference, given the company's demand to hold presentation meetings for the Indigenous Component Studies. In this letter, FUNAI opened the possibility for Belo Sun to choose and inform “whether it intends to present the Indigenous Component Studies to the indigenous people in person or by video conference. After answering, in both cases we will ask the Regional Coordination of the Center-East of Pará to consult with the indigenous people regarding the agreement with the proposed model, and regarding technical feasibility (internet connection etc.), in the case of presentation by video conference
In view of this, in December 2020, the Juruna of Paquiçamba IT sent a letter to FUNAI, MPF and TRF-1 stating that they only accept in-person consultation meetings, respecting their consultation protocol, and only after all indigenous people are vaccinated.
On January 5, 2021, the Mẽbengôkre-Xikrin of the Trincheira-Bacajá Indigenous Territory, through the Bebô Xikrin Do Bacajá Association, Wrote A Letter To FUNAI requesting their inclusion in the Belo Sun mining project licensing process, in accordance with the right to free, prior and informed consultation of ILO Convention 169.
FUNAI responded, through the OFFICIAL LETTER No. 50/2021/CGLIC/DPDS/FUNAI, on January 18, 2021, that according to Interministerial Ordinance No. 60/15, there is a presumption of impacts and application of the indigenous component of the environmental licensing for mining projects in Brazil's Legal Amazon that are located within 10 km from indigenous lands (Annex I of Ordinance No. 60/15), and the Trincheira Bacajá Indigenous Territory is located at approximately 39 km from the Volta Grande Project. FUNAI claimed, therefore, that there is no provision for the inclusion of this indigenous land in the environmental licensing of the project, as there is no presumption of impacts on the Trincheira Bacajá Indigenous Territory.
On January 18, 2021, the fourth independent technical opinion was filed, through Joint Official Letter 38/2021 of the Rede Xingu+ and the Movimento Xingu Vivo para Sempre, providing information on issues related to water quality and risk of contamination in drainage impacted by the Volta Grande Gold Project, examined within the scope of the Indigenous Component Study, according to technical opinion of researchers Marcelo Camargo, MSc., Ingo Wahnfried, Ph.D. and André Sawakuchi, Ph.D.
On February 10, 2021, FUNAI issued the Technical Information nº 7/2021/COTRAM/CGLIC/DPDS-FUNAI that examined the Security Protocol for Meeting Holding, presented by Belo Sun to FUNAI, for alleged “validation of the Indigenous Component Studies of the Volta Grande Project's Environmental Impact Studies.”
In view of the violations of the Juruna Consultation Protocol, and taking into account the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Federal Public Defender's Office issued Recommendation No. 4302188, on March 9, prompting FUNAI to reject and/or suspend the effects of Technical Information nº 7/2021 to refrain from authorizing, promoting, articulating and/or participating in meetings for the presentation and discussion of the Indigenous Component of the Environmental Impact Studies and that, after the health security conditions have been reestablished, to take all the necessary measures so that the rules of free, prior and informed consultation are duly followed.
On March 12, 2021, SESAI submitted the OFFICIAL LETTER No. 145/2021/SESAI/NUJUR/SESAI/MS to FUNAI requesting that meetings with indigenous people not be held in accordance with recommendation by the Federal Public Defender's Office.
On March 19, 2021, the Specialized Attorney's Office of FUNAI issued the LEGAL NOTICE No. 00004/2021/MCCF-PFE/PFE-FUNAI/PGF/AGU to the presidency of FUNAI requesting the suspension of procedures within the competence of FUNAI with indigenous peoples, considering the COVID-19 pandemic.
In October 2021, meetings were held in the Paquiçamba and Arara da Volta Grande do Xingu Indigenous Territories with FUNAI, JGP and Belo Sun for the presentation and deliberation on the approval by the indigenous people of the Indigenous Component of the Environmental Impact Studies (CI-EIA) of the Volta Grande Project for the Arara da Volta Grande do Xingu and Paquiçamba Indigenous Territories; the EIA-CIs were approved.
On December 1, 2021, through the Official Letter 93 to Belo Sun, IPHAN and SEMAS, FUNAI approved the Indigenous Component of the Environmental Impact Studies report and informed its acceptance so that the Preliminary License for the project could be issued.
In February 2022, the Public Prosecutor's Office petitioned in the Public-Interest Civil Action of the Indigenous Component Study/Belo Sun Consultation in the Federal Appellate Court of the 1st Region Opinion on the violations of the principles of Free Prior and Informed Consultation in the case of Belo Sun.
On March 14, 2022, Norte Energia filed a document with FUNAI, IBAMA and SEMAS requesting the reassessment of the Belo Sun environmental licensing process, so that the topic can be the subject of detailed technical analysis and essential dialogue between the stakeholders in the face of cumulative and synergistic impacts.
On April 26, 2022, the Federal Public Defender's Office filed a Public Civil Action against INCRA, Belo Sun and the State of Pará to defend the rights of the populations affected by the execution of the Use Concession Agreement No. 1.224/2021, signed by the National Institute of Colonization and Agrarian Reform (INCRA) and the company Belo Sun Mining Ltda., on November 26, 2021. In the action, the declaration for nullity of the contract and the declaration for nullity of the Installation License No. 2.712/2017 are requested.
On April 25, 2022, in the trial of the Federal Appellate Court of the 1st Region on the Public-Interest Civil Action of the Federal Prosecution Office that requests the execution of the Indigenous Component of the Environmental Impact Studies and Free, Prior and Informed Consultation with indigenous peoples, the Court rejected all the appeals presented by the company Belo Sun and the State of Pará and upheld the 2017 decision that suspended the Installation License in its entirety.
On May 23, 2022, a new court decision suspended the environmental license based on the lack of consultation with affected riverside communities.
In the trial regarding compliance with the Indigenous Component of the Environmental Impact Studies and the prior consultation, the Court ruled that this assessment lies within the jurisdiction of FUNAI and SEMAS, and that these issues of merit must be claimed and discussed in a separate action.