Five years since the Mariana disaster: read the accounts of victims

The collapse of the Fundão tailings dam, in November 2015, caused 19 deaths and affected at least 1.9 million people

Five years ago, the largest environmental and social crime involving mining dams occurred in Brazil: the Doce River disaster, a “sea of mud” with more than 40 million cubic meters of iron ore tailings that not only caused the complete destruction of residential areas, like the district of Bento Rodrigues, but also killed 19 people and affected at least 1.9 million residents of the Doce River basin, from the state of Minas Gerais to the coast of neighboring Espírito Santo.

The collapse of the tailings dam, operated by the mining company Samarco, a subsidiary of Vale and BHP, continues to this day to increasingly cause illness, violate rights and disrespect the victims. 

Read excerpts of the accounts of Mônica and Joelma, two victims who are still fighting for justice and redress:

Mônica dos Santos
Bento Rodrigues (district of Mariana – Minas Gerais)

“I was affected by losing everything I had. My home, my dreams, future plans, material and immaterial goods, friends… In other words, my whole life. The crime was not only on November 5, it is renewed each day, when we live with the uncertainty of what will happen while our rights are violated. We are getting sick and dying without compensation and without seeing our homes. In five years, nothing has changed in my life except the loss of my brother, without us even getting help to build our house and without any compensation. I often say that this life is not mine. This life, which I am living today, was imposed on me by the murderous companies, and I live in fear, with uncertainty… Not to mention all the countless meetings and hearings. They are exhaustive and the vast majority are often futile. The communities are being developed slowly. The deadline for the resettlements to be ready is February 27, 2021. The companies will end up blaming the pandemic, which is not true. If in two years they have only built two houses in the Bento resettlement, imagine how long it will take them to finish the other two hundred or so houses. And this is only in the Bento resettlement, what about the other resettlements? What’s happening is that the companies that committed the murder are the ones deciding how much they have to pay. I don’t think that’s fair. It’s like me killing someone and then determining myself the penalty I should pay. Obviously, I wouldn’t set a harsh penalty, or none at all if possible, right? This is what the companies have been doing all along. The fact is that over these five years we’ve already lost many residents, both young and old. Sometimes I think the companies are waiting for us all to die so they can get out of paying reparations. The affected people who have been compensated only accepted out of fatigue and for fear of dying without ever seeing the money. And the amounts they received were set by the companies. They did have the option to go to court, but the vast majority chose not to because the justice system is very slow and time-consuming. And as every day we see a friend, a resident, a person dying, this fear lingers in the community, among the affected people. To die without receiving compensation, to die without seeing your home, to die without seeing your community together again. This is most often what happens. I don’t feel redressed. First, because we can’t even design our house, because Renova doesn’t want to give us our rights. I don’t think I’m the one who should have to prove what I lost. They’re the ones that should have to prove it, the murderous companies. Second, because we still haven’t been asked to negotiate, and the amount companies are offering, in my view, will never be enough. Because I had things that can never be returned to me, that can never be compensated. And no money in the world can pay for what I had, the life I had, the future I had planned for myself.

Joelma Fernandes Teixeira
Ilha Brava (Governador Valadares – Minas Gerais)

After five years, our situation has worsened. Because we lost everything in 2015 and now, in this year’s flood, we had fixed our irrigation, planted several fruit trees, avocado, lemon… And then we had these floods, with more mud. To tell you the truth, more mud was left on the islands than in 2015. I don’t know where they kept all the mud that was unleashed in this flood we had in 2020. And our avocado trees, which were already four years old and in season, they all died. The wall that we rebuilt, the irrigation system that we reinstalled, the engine… 

They don’t want to acknowledge me because I don’t have an island documentation. But when it comes to islands, either you start to create your own after the flood passes, when islets are formed, and you keep on creating one, or you buy one from somebody who already owns one. In my case, I bought mine. I didn’t get documentation because there are lots of neighbors, everyone knows everyone. There was no real need. But they want us to provide documentation. I could do a sale and purchase, but then they would say that I bought the island after the event. So, they’re not giving me compensation. There are many cases like mine. Of river people, washerwomen, fishermen… So, there are many cases here of islanders who have not been acknowledged.

My health has been damaged for what? My good cholesterol was 20%. I started to feel sick, so I took some tests and my good cholesterol was 20%, and the minimum healthy level is 40%. As a result, I have to take medication that costs 150 reais, called Prest, for the omega-3. This is a consequence of the lack of fish in my body, because I was raised eating fish as my father was a fisherman. He wasn’t registered either, but he was a fisherman. And, as a result, my good cholesterol has weakened, and so I have high triglycerides and, subsequently, diabetes too. So, I am a sick person today because of that cursed mud. And they don’t acknowledge it, they don’t want to acknowledge it. Which I think is very unfair. I’m talking about my case. But there are a lot of people like me, you know? There are many. The boys who used to pick the lemons and mangos here and pod the beans (which left here on a coconut truck) ended up moving to the city. There used to be a recreational area here in the community… It’s a small, rural community. The boys started moving to the city, to Santa Rita, which is the neighborhood closest to Valadares here. And there they got involved with drugs. Many of these young men are in prison. Others were killed. You see? 

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