Home » Brazil Demands $15.7 Billion for 2015 Mariana Disaster

Brazil Demands $15.7 Billion for 2015 Mariana Disaster

Government Seeks Immediate Payment from Vale, BHP, Samarco

by Ikeoluwa Ogungbangbe

The mining giants Vale, BHP, and its joint venture Samarco are facing a long-running legal struggle from the Brazilian government. On Tuesday, the government demanded an immediate payment of 79.6 billion reais ($15.73 billion) for damages caused by the catastrophic failure of a tailings dam in 2015. A federal court in the state of Minas Gerais, where the accident happened almost nine years ago, received this demand.

The disaster in question happened at the iron ore mine Samarco, which is close to Mariana, Minas Gerais. A nearby community was completely submerged, resulting in the deaths of 19 people and the displacement of hundreds more, as millions of cubic meters of mud and mining waste cascaded into the surrounding environment due to the dam collapse. The event is recognized as the most severe environmental catastrophe in Brazil’s mining history.

The government demands that the money be paid within 15 days, failing which it threatens to have the court order the involved companies’ assets frozen. According to the Brazilian Solicitor General’s Office (AGU), the corporations’ persistent inability to appropriately address the entire scope of the disaster is the driving force behind this assertive legal action. The AGU blasted the corporations for handling the disaster’s reparations like a standard liability case, which, considering the extent of the environmental and human tragedy involved, it deems completely unacceptable.

This legal move comes after a new compensation plan from Samarco, Vale, and BHP was rejected by the State of Espírito Santo and the Brazilian government. This plan was submitted last Friday, but it was rejected because it did not make much progress beyond the terms discussed in December 2023. The mining companies had proposed a total compensation of 127 billion reais, which included 37 billion reais already paid. However, the authorities had demanded a higher total of 155 billion reais ($30.6 billion).

The conditions for the disposal of mining waste from the Rio Doce watershed are among the main objections raised by the authorities in their rejection of the most recent plan. They contended that the parameters offered showed a disdain for the negotiated cleanup efforts required to restore the severely affected area, as they were significantly less stringent than what had previously been agreed upon.

The protracted conflict and the government’s recent court demand highlight how difficult it is to hold big businesses responsible for harm to the environment and to people. It also draws attention to the difficulties in reaching agreements on compensation that fairly compensate for the extent of the tragedy and guarantee impacted communities receive justice.

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