A story, in text and images, by the Minas Gerais photographer Isis Medeiros about the tragedy in Brumadinho.
Text and photos by Isis Medeiros
At lunch on Friday, January 25, the news arrives: "Vale dam breaks in the city of Brumadinho, in Minas Gerais". I left the plate on its side, my heart was already racing, and I was distressed to wait for information. Everything will start all over again, I thought quickly.
It seems that it was yesterday that the same news, then about the dam breakage of the Fundão in Mariana, Minas Gerais, reached me. The same affliction of 3 years ago took hold again. I took a pair of clothes, filled the bag with some equipment and called the Movement of People Affected by Dams. I still had no idea what was to come, since the information arrived incomplete, but I immediately asked for a spot in the car, which was already leaving Belo Horizonte for the area.
We were tense on the road, nervous about the news that came over the radio. The reporter, on the radio, reported that the refectory, which was just below the dam that broke in Brumadinho, was crowded at the time of the break. The workers were having lunch at that time, and in that area, probably, there were no survivors. The number: 250 people! We already knew, however, that this number could be much higher. Mariana's memories came up incessantly. We already knew well the desolation scenario that was to come, and that would be even bigger with this human tragedy.
It was with this heart squeeze that we arrived at Córrego do Feijão Community, a small district of Brumadinho, the first place hit by the destruction of the tailings. The press had already arrived, and desperate family members came in search of news about Vale's employees and possible survivors of the crime, or called desperate colleagues for some information. Nothing. No phones answered. No one knew anything else. Outside, the military police surrounded the Community Center. Other employees and uniformed bosses of the company met with representatives of the fire department from the inside. No one could even approach them. The police took charge of armoring the entrances to the hall and preventing any approach. The fire department cars were arriving and lining up the brigades for the mission. "Bring shovels and hoes," the captain ordered. And there the endless work would begin in search of the people affected.
That Friday morning, there was no siren, nothing went off. When they arrived at the crime scene, a lot of mud and silence. The mining company's tailings were settling on the slopes, bubbling on the surface and flowing down the valley towards the Paraopeba River. The noisy helicopters started the search, came and went bringing more information about the devastated area. In the eyes of those approaching there was despair and uneasiness, and residents of the community were already sketching irritation with the company. To some people, that desolate scenario seemed premeditated. Some residents, when they remembered the security and evacuation course in case of a break-up, which the company offered months ago, were enraged by this memory. "Yes, Vale killed my father," shouted a young woman who had just arrived at the crime scene.
During the following days, those who arrived in the community were frightened to see that apocalyptic scene and the deafening sound of helicopters working day and night in search of an extensive list of people who were being added, from time to time, and announced by representatives of the Fire Department. Six hundred names of people among those already found, the missing and the rescued without life, listed the walls of the Community Center that day and night received uninformed relatives. The missing bodies were being found lifeless and filled the gaps in the confirmed deaths. Black bags arrived loaded all the time in the camp. Antônio, Joana, Maria, José, Augusto, all dead.
Photographers and cameramen from all over Brazil and the world were arriving and recording the same scene: rescue of bodies and animals in the midst of chaos. During the first 15 days after the tragedy, the conclusion is that the sadness and revolt of these people could not be captured by any camera that passed through here. The violence is geological, geographic, economic, social, psychological and political. What model of economic development sustains and allows exploitation and crimes of this magnitude? As in Mariana, the portrait and pain of these people will always be marked by the mud of impunity and neglect.
Death is never just a number. Rio Doce, Paraopeba, São Francisco. Indigenous communities, quilombolas, riverine communities, urban. So many people in the middle of this path that 600 bodies are not an abstract number. Our basins are borderless and our sovereignty is priceless. They are sustenance, stories, food, memories and lives. Environmental crime is also murder.
In each person, an immeasurable sadness to tell, besides anger and indignation. Lives broken by greed. The ten billion profits of this multinational make no difference to those who were hit or lost a father, a brother or a daughter, or to those who saw the house in rubble or had no opportunity to see anything, because they were stabbed in the back and mixed with that avalanche of waste. For these people who stayed alive, there is hope of still finding their loved one and being able to bury them with a minimum of dignity. Even the company and the State do not promise this.
According to the National Mining Agency, the inspectors responsible for regulating the operation of the Brumadinho dam had not appeared since 2016. On the same day of the breakup, Vale met with the workers' union to negotiate a working day that would go from 8 a.m. to 12 noon. Privatization is behind the collapse of these dams.
Mining kills and the State buries. The culprits are anonymous and justice has its side.
In Mariana, the companies are unpunished and dominate all the post-crime processes. The mining companies act with the protection and blessing of the State, the climate is one of domination in all processes, from the registration of missing persons and the control of donations coming from all over Brazil, to cabinet agreements, without the participation of those directly affected, trade unions and civil organizations. In Mariana, three years later, the scenario is still chaotic. The State sold has no control over the processes. There are those who still relativize the facts, believing that justice will be done this time, that the measures are really being taken and that those responsible will be imprisoned. Mere deception. Once again, the criminal takes care of the crime scene and the State is cowardly.
Twenty days after the massacre caused by the mining company in Brumadinho, among the main complaints of residents is the lack of information about the searches for victims, which does not reach the inns where the displaced people are being sheltered.
Many complain about the detachment of the families of Córrego do Feijão from the community, breaking the emotional ties that existed there. Others complain of the abuse of privacy, with the press knocking on their doors at all times, as well as the difficulty of adapting to the new location. Families are still demanding agility from the vehicles that transport them to Córrego do Feijão.
Many of these affected people and the families of the victims insist in visiting the affected area every day in search of information about the disappeared. Life has stopped there, the village that used to breathe has become a valley of tears. Residents say they don't even know the day of the week or the month.
There is nothing to make these people get up and believe in better days while justice fails and takes time.
The Movement of People Affected by Dams defends that the process of reparation, built in a negligent way right after the crime in Mariana, cannot be repeated in Brumadinho. For the movement, leaving reparations in the hands of the criminals themselves is an immeasurable mistake, which will be responsible for future violations and crimes that will require more efforts to be solved. Ideally, the process of reparations should be built collectively, with popular participation and independent technical advice that responds to the real needs of the population. The people must then be the protagonist in fixing their own lives, because only those who know the local reality, the impacted lifestyles and what needs and must be repaired is the population itself.
Quiet places of simple people and coffee at the end of the afternoon, a paradise of mountains already sliced by mining, where life and the calmness of Minas Gerais that marks us so much, have been wounded, once again, by the irresponsibility of Vale.
To find out more about the work of Isis Medeiros: https://www.instagram.com/isismedeiros_foto/