The Public Ministry of Minas Gerais (MPMG) announced today (5) the filing of a lawsuit for liquidation and enforcement of judgment against Samarco, Vale and BHP Billiton. The immediate allocation of R$2.54 billion was requested to repair the population of Mariana (MG) that was affected when the dam broke in November 2015. The process is expected to benefit around 1,300 families. The tragedy turns six years old next month and, according to MPMG estimates, not even 30% of victims in the worst-affected city have been compensated so far.
The collapse of the dam generated an avalanche of mud that reached several municipalities in Minas Gerais and Espírito Santo along the Rio Doce basin. In addition, 19 people died. The structure belonged to Samarco, whose shareholders are Vale and BHP Billiton. To repair the damage, in March 2016, the three miners signed a Transaction and Conduct Adjustment Agreement (TTAC) with the federal government and the governments of Minas Gerais and Espírito Santo. Under the agreement, the Renova Foundation was created, which was responsible for managing more than 40 programs aimed at repairing all environmental and socioeconomic damage.
The entity’s work in the city of Mariana involves several fronts: individual and collective compensation, emergency aid, rebuilding communities, reestablishment of productive rural properties, etc. All the work generates a lot of criticism from the MPMG and from the entities that represent those affected. The new action is exclusively concerned with the individual compensation of the city’s victims.
In Mariana, the repair process has its peculiarities, since it is discussed in the State Court, while the Federal Court was responsible for monitoring the case in the other municipalities in the basin. For the prosecutor Guilherme Meneghin, in relation to individual indemnities, the agreement formulated in October 2018 was breached, in which it was established that the mining companies would present their proposals within 90 days after the completion of the registration of those affected. According to him, this deadline has been systematically ignored. “Companies remain reluctant to pay and recognize those affected,” he adds.
According to the lawsuit filed, there have been several attempts over the past few years to ensure compliance with the 2018 agreement. There are reports of families who have been waiting for a proposal for almost a year. “The obligation was not fully fulfilled and is not even close to being fulfilled, which is why this request for liquidation/compliance with the judgment is proposed”, says the MPMG in the process.
Registration in Mariana is carried out by Cáritas, an entity chosen by the victims themselves to advise them. From them, dossiers are prepared that list the types of damage suffered by each one. Labor costs are the responsibility of the mining companies. He was even paralyzed for lack of funds, which generated a challenge from the MPMG. In July of that year, at a court hearing, the transfer of R$ 8 million to Cáritas was agreed. The 135 registrations that were in progress should be finalized later this year and another 177 that had not yet started will be completed by early 2022.
In addition to taking responsibility for approximately 1,300 records, Cáritas also produced a damage matrix, through which the valuation of the damages of each affected can be calculated. For its production, agreements were signed with research institutions such as the Economic and Administrative Research Institute (Ipead) and the Regional Development and Planning Center (Cedeplar), both linked to the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG).
The Renova Foundation, however, does not take this work into account when formulating its proposal. The entity has another reference to define the values. “It is a schedule of indemnities, which does not include the various rights of those affected”, says Meneghin. Much of the divergence focus on moral damages, which involve, for example, the loss of livelihoods and impacts on physical and mental health. The prosecutor assesses that the Caritas damage matrix is much better than any solution that the Renova Foundation has already presented.
“It takes into account various aspects of rights, including unjustifiable delays. This is an interesting point. The damage matrix takes into account, for example, the time that families are wasting to be repaired. It takes many years to rebuild my life. The loss of useful time, caused by the inefficiency of companies and the Renova Foundation, is an indemnifiable damage”, he observes.
According to the prosecutor, if the Court grants the request, the R$2.54 billion will have to be deposited in court in favor of the registered victims. “We made the calculation based on an average of the indemnities that were paid. And we apply to the rest of the community that has not yet been compensated”, explains Meneghin. The division of the amount will take into account the damage matrix elaborated by Cáritas. The prosecutor recalls that the action does not prevent families not yet indemnified from signing an individual agreement with Vale or from deciding to execute the mining company in court individually.
The payment of individual indemnities is just one of the bottlenecks in the repair process in Mariana. Another problem involves the reconstruction of the districts of Bento Rodrigues and Paracatu, devastated by the wave of tailings. Almost six years after the tragedy, the work is still far from finished.
In March of that year, when only seven of the 306 planned homes were completed, the MPMG filed a lawsuit to collect a fine for the delay. In another process, which is temporarily suspended by decision of the Superior Court of Justice (STJ), the MPMG even asked in February of this year to extinction of the Renova Foundation.
Sought by Agência Brasil, Vale, Samarco and BHP Billiton informed that they were not notified of the action. The three mining companies said they are committed to fully repairing the damage caused by the dam failure. According to Samarco, so far, more than 330,000 people have been compensated throughout the Rio Doce basin. To pay for all the actions carried out within the scope of the planned programs, the miner says that more than R$ 15.57 billion was allocated to the Renova Foundation. In turn, the Renova Foundation informed that it is not part of this action filed by the MPMG.
rest of the basin
The repair process in the rest of the basin is also the target of criticism and has generated reactions from the Federal Public Ministry (MPF), which sees the Renova Foundation lacking the necessary autonomy from the mining companies. Almost six years after the dam’s collapse, more than 80,000 lawsuits are in line awaiting consideration. In July of last year, Ramboll, one of the independent external consultants that advises the activities of the MPF, pointed out that only 34% of the families registered throughout the basin had received any compensation amount.
Payments, however, gained a push at the end of 2020 from a series of court decisions that led to the implementation of the Simplified System. Through it, informal workers who had not yet been recognized as affected were able to obtain amounts referring to moral and material damages. The MPF, however, considers that there were irregularities in the decisions that supported the creation of the system and assesses that some established values were low.
A few months ago, a renegotiation has been discussed under the mediation of the National Council of Justice (CNJ). The expectation of the MPF and MPMG is that a new repair agreement will be made with the mining companies establishing another governance model, and may not involve the Renova Foundation. The governments of Minas Gerais and Espírito Santo also participate in the negotiations and are in favor of defining a new term for reparation.
For Meneghin, the damage matrix elaborated by Cáritas could be taken into account in this renegotiation and used as a reference in all affected cities. “If this were done, I have no doubt that the entire basin could benefit from the excellent work that was done”, he says.
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