Brazil indigenous protest blocks major iron ore railway

Date of publication: 
10 July 2013

Brazilian indigenous people in the Amazon region have blocked one of the country’s most important railways in a protest for better public services.

The railway is owned by mining giant Vale and connects the world’s largest iron ore mine, Carajas, to a port on the northern coast near Sao Luis.

The track transports more than 100m tonnes of the mineral each year.

It is the second time this week that the trains have been halted by protesters of neighbouring villages.

Protesters from several tribes burned wood on the railway in the Amazonian region of Alto Alegre do Pindare, demanding better transport, education, health and security.

Last week, they blocked the railway for two days.

Earlier this week, residents of another village near Sao Luis, in the state of Maranhao, also stopped the trains in a protest.

No passenger service

They want Vale to act on their behalf in negotiations with the authorities.

Because of the protests, the passenger train that transports about 1,500 passengers a day between the city of Parauapebas, in Para, and Sao Luis has not resumed its regular service since last week.

Despite having a court authorisation to evict the protesters at any time, Vale chose not to enforce it, the world’s second largest mining company said in a statement.

The demonstrations came about a month after several thousand Brazilians took to the streets of the country’s major cities in a wave of protests against poor public services, corruption and the cost of staging the 2014 World Cup.

Vale has faced several protests from indigenous peoples of the region in the past, more recently because of its expansion plans for the 892km-long railway.

Despite court challenges and fierce criticism, work on a second line along its railway to the coast is under way.

Elsewhere in the Amazon, land grabbing, illegal logging and mining conflicts are common grievances.

But the giant Belo Monte hydroelectric dam project has been the focus of most protests and clashes.

The Brazilian government says it is needed to guarantee Brazil’s energy provision, especially in the Amazon region, which still relies heavily on fossil fuels.

Critics say the controversial project will cause irreversible social, cultural and environmental damage.

So far, however, demonstrations and court challenges have failed to prevent it from going ahead.


Brazilian Indigenous groups block iron ore miner Vale’s Carajas railway

10 July 2013

(Reuters) Brazilian Indigenous groups seeking better public services blocked a key railway carrying iron ore from global miner Vale’s giant Carajas mine to port, the company said.

Vale did not say how much iron ore had been held up by the protests, which were not directed at the company. The railway, known as EFC, carries close to 100 million tonnes of iron ore a year, or nearly 10 percent of the world’s 1 billion tonnes of seaborne exports.

The line connects the Carajas mining complex in Brazil’s Amazonian state of Pará with the Port of Ponta da Madeira near São Luis, the Atlantic port capital of Maranhão state on Brazil’s Northeast coast.

The railway moves a third of Vale’s iron ore output of about 300 million tonnes a year and is being expanded along with Carajas to make up for declining output in Brazil’s central highlands.

COAPIMA, an organization representing indigenous groups in Maranhão, said various tribes were demonstrating to demand better services, including health care, on their reservations.

Vale said a local court ruled the protesters should be evicted from the railway but the order had not yet been carried out. The miner, the world’s second-largest, last week received permission from Brazil’s Environmental Protection Agency to build a $19.5 billion expansion to Carajas.

Brazil, which has set about 13 percent of its territory for Indigenous people, is struggling to defuse a series of conflicts with natives over farmland, proposed hydroelectric dams, and mines.

President Dilma Rousseff, who will likely run for re-election next year, has tried to prevent more violence since two Terena Indigenous people were killed when police evicted members of the tribe from a former congressman’s cattle ranch last month.

Indians were generally not involved in massive protests that rocked cities across Brazil in late June and focused on a range of urban grievances from government corruption to inadequate public transportation and hospitals.