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By telling the story of an NGO created by three friends to protect the environment in the Amazon, the Brazilian series "Aruanas" brings an alert to the global environmental crisis, while showing in in the foreground the conflicts experienced by environmental activists in their daily life.

"Aruanas" is an exclusive Globo TV channel production for Globoplay, co-produced by Maria Farinha Filmes. Created and written by Estela Renner and Marcos Nisti, written with Pedro Barros, artistic direction by Carlos Manga Jr and general direction by Estela Renner, the series was released worldwide in July 2019, in 150 countries and, in April 2020, reached the Open TV in Brazil.

In the series, the journalist Natalie (Débora Falabella), the lawyer Verônica (Tais Araújo), and the activist Luiza (Leandra Leal) join the trainee Clara (Thainá Duarte) to investigate, from an anonymous report, the connection between a powerful mining company and illegal mining groups in the fictional city of Cari, in the Amazon. Taking many many risks, they engage in a struggle against Olga (Camila Pitanga), a lobbyist who helps the mining company to explore an environmental reserve in order to expand the business with devastating environmental and social impact.

According to screenwriter Marcos Nisti, "the idea of ​​the series is to talk about the daily life of activists in an unprecedent way."


The issues present in "Aruanas" may raise a number of questions about the environment and the role of activists


Does the illegal mining really hinders the environment conservation in forest areas like the Amazon?

Yes, In the Amazon, illegal mining causes severe environmental and social problems, according to the Instituto do Homem e do Meio Ambiente da Amazônia (Imazon). The morphology of rivers can be seriously modified by the excavation of trenches. The activity is also responsible for contamination by mercury and other metals. According to Imazon estimates, for every 1 kg of gold produced, 1.3 kg of mercury is released into the environment. Mining also has dramatic social impact. According to Instituto Socioambiental (ISA), thousands of illegal miners have broke into indigenous territories in Roraima, for instance, causing diseases and cultural conflicts.

Historically, driven by economic reasons, Brazilian government encouraged mining through the opening of roads for gold mining areas and increase of gold import taxes in order to boost domestic production. The context has gotten worse and worse with the policies of the current Federal Government, which have weakened environmental inspection and favored the work of illegal miners and land grabbers. The government is also trying to pass a Bill in the National Congress that legalizes mineral exploration in Indigenous Lands and threatens to revise the limits of indigenous lands already demarcated, giving organized crime a "go-ahead" to act in the forests.

In addition to environmental damage and contamination risk, illegal mining finances land grabbing and violence. According to Roberto Antônio Liebgott, coordinator of the Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI), gold mining is the flagship of the problems in the worsening of the offensive on indigenous lands, in addition to invasions, theft of wood, minerals and land grabbing.

The impact of illegal mining is extensive. Studies by Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation (ICMBio) suggests that illegal mining has become one of the main vectors of deforestation in Conservation Units in Brazil. According to the study, 949 mining areas were registered in 2017, by the National Institute for Space Research (INPE), spreading over 45.8 square kilometers. One year earlier, 382 areas had been mapped, in a total area of ​​29.3 square kilometers.

Aruanas shows a lot of conflicts involving indigenous peoples and illegal mining. Are clashes beetween those groups frequent?

Those conflicts are real throughout the Amazon and they are increasing. According to a recent report from the Indigenist Missionary Council (CIMI), there is a large offensive of illegal miners in invasions that hit the Yanomami people's area in Roraima state, in the area of the Javari valley in Amazonas state, around the Tapajós River's basin, in Pará state; and within the territory of the Suruí people, in Rondônia state. Near the town of Mâncio Lima, in Acre state, isolated indigenous people are facing the invasion of illegal miners from Peru.

A study by Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz) and the Socioenvironmental Institute showed that in some of the Yanomami villages in Roraima - where at least 10,000 miners are estimated to work - 92% of the inhabitants are poisoned by mercury. According to ISA, in March 2020, the Yanomami territory had an increase of 3% in the area degraded by illegal miners, compared to the previous month. Not even the new coronavirus reduced the rate of invasions - on the contrary, since the beginning of the pandemic, the number of prospectors has been multiplying. It is estimated that 10,000 prospectors work in that Indigenous Land, where 114 hectares of forests were cleared in March alone. In 2019, violence against indigenous peoples reached the highest level in 11 years, with nine leaders murdered and 39 under threat, according to data from the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT). Most of these murders take place in areas under great pressure from miners and land grabbers.

In the 1970s and 1980s, about 30,000 gold miners migrated to the Yanomami people's area when gold and other minerals were discovered in the region. About 20% of the Yanomami population was then exterminated, mainly due to diseases such as measles, malaria, whooping cough and influenza. Others died in armed clashes with illegal miners. A study by the Amazonian Georeferenced Socio-Environmental Information Network (Raisg), published in 2018 showed that the Amazon is experiencing "an illegal mining epidemics" In the biome, 2,312 illegal mining sites were identified, 453 in Brazil.

The pressure of mining companies on indigenous territories is also huge. There are at least 5,600 mineral exploration processes underway for exploration of minerals in protected areas and indigenous lands, according to WWF-Brazil's report "Mining in the Legal Amazon and Protected Areas 2018". The Yanomami Indigenous Land, in Roraima state, is the most coveted area of ​​protection by mining companies, with 534 requests for exploration on their lands, according to a survey by the Socio-Environmental Institute.

In "Aruanas", starting from an anonymous report, the actvists investigate the connection between a powerful mining company and illegal miners working in the Amazon. Is it common for environmental organizations to take action on the basis of anonymous reports?

It is quite common for an NGO to use an anonymous complaint as a starting point for action. It is even more common for the operations of the police and environmental control agencies. In 2017, for instance, 12 people were arrested, after anonymous report, for illegal exploitation of ore in the Rural Area of ​​Ariquemes (RO), in the Jamari Valley. In May 2018, following anonymous clues, the Federal Police, Ibama and ICMBio dismantled illegal garimpos in indigenous lands of Itaituba (PA) - eight hydraulic excavators and one tractor were seized. In February last year, in operation requested by National Indian Foundation (Funai), illegal garimpos were dismantled in the Roosevelt and Sete de Setembro indigenous lands in Rondônia. Loaders, motors, track tractors and other machines were seized.

 Mining companies may be involved in illegal activities, as showed in "Aruanas"?

The production chain of the mining activity is quite complex, involving connections among companies of different sizes and diverse business segments. Large multinational mining companies are more visible and easier to oversight. But it is difficult to trace the connections between small-scale mining, medium-sized firms - many of them in fact engaged in illegal activities - and large mining companies. But sometimes cases like these come to light. In 2018, for instance, in Barcarena, northeast of Pará state, six companies of illegal extraction of ores were closed, after the seizure of several tons of copper and manganese illegally extracted. At least one of them had a faked license to operate. The companies were connected to a huge unauthorized cargo logistics terminal. As Barcarena is the main entrance and exit of manganese in Pará state, an investigation of the whole production chain involving the activity was required.

In "Aruanas", a powerful mining company releases toxic metals into the water, land and air during the gold mining process. Is this kind of environmental crime really committed by large companies?

The Brazilian Constitution requires mining companies to protect and recover the environment that is degraded by industrial mining. In order for this to be respected, the government must continuously supervise artisanal mining or industrial mining activities. But, actually, such supervision is rarely performed, especially in the context of small scale mining. Mercury is widely used in gold extraction, in order to separate the precious metal from sediments. In 2018, a report from the Ministry of the Environment mapped the release of mercury in mines in states of Amapá, Bahia, Mato Grosso and Pará. The report estimates that, from january 2017 to april 2018, at least 18.5 tons of mercury were discharged into the environment, related to officially declared gold mining processes. Considering the illegal mining, the total amound of mercury  released could reach 221 tonnes. In May 2018, in Santa Catarina, government agents seized more than 1.7 tons of mercury. The material, coming from Turkey, was intended to be used in illegal mining sites in the Amazon.

The estimated mercury emission from small-scale gold mining activity in Brazil in 2016 ranged from 11 to 161 tons, according to another research, led by the Mineral Technology Center of the Ministry of Science. The study was prepared for the National Inventory of Mercury Emissions and Releases in Artisanal and Small Scale Mining in Brazil, whose preliminary data were released in 2018. The number considers the legal and illegal production of gold - especially in the Amazon. According to the survey, most of this production is located in Mato Grosso and Pará states, but there are also activities with the use of mercury in small scale illegal mining sites spread all over Amapá, Rondônia, Amazonas, Tocantins and Bahia states. It is estimated that there are at least 80,000 miners who work legally and illegally in these regions, but the number could reach 800,000.

In "Aruanas", the mining activies are close to be legalized in the Cari reserve - the fictional place where the environmental conflicts take place. Is this only a dramaturgy resource, protected areas could really be opened for mining activities?

Current brazilian legislation disallows the exploitation of ores, without express authorization by the National Congress,  in indigenous lands, in integral protection conservation units, in extractive reserves and in natural heritage reserves. In the conservation units of sustainable use, exploratory actions must be properly framed in the management plan of each one of them.

However, there are strong pressures for mining liberation in protected areas of the Amazon. Attracted by the huge ore deposits in the biome, companies usally put pressure on lawmakers and decision makers in order to redesign these areas and to liberate mining activities. This pressure translates into a large number of places where protected areas overlaps areas where the "mining process" is already underway - being the mining process  the administrative set of procedures alongside the National Mining Agency (ANM) to authorize mineral activity in the Brazilian territory.

A study published by WWF-Brazil in 2018 indicates that 219 conservation units have some portion of their territory overlapped by mining processes considered active by ANM. There are 17,000 mining processes overlapping these protected areas. Among 219 Conservation Units overlapped by mining projects, 118 are completely restrictive to mining and 63 of them are managed by the brazilian government. According to the study, the the Monte Roraima National Park, in Roraima state, is the most potentially impacted area by mining processes running at different stages: 477 square kilometers of overlap.

According to the WWF-Brazil's study, the mining processes in request stage inside Conservation Units covers 295,000 hectares. The processes having already authorization for mineral research covers almost 90,000 hectares. The processes that grant the right to mineral extraction puts at risk at least 16,000 hectares in the Amazon. Today, there are at least 5,600 mineral mining processes underway for extraction of ores in protected areas and indigenous lands, according to WWF-Brazil's report "Mining in the Legal Amazon and Protected Areas 2018".

In "Aruanas", one of the central characters of the plot, Olga (Camila Pitanga), is an ambitious and unscrupulous lobbyist for the mining company involved in environmental crimes in the Amazon. Are lobbyists really that relevant in environmental conflicts?

Lobbying is an extremely relevant activity for the mining industry. Lobbyists act by putting pressure on politicians and public agencies to ensure that corporate interests prevail, even when they are detrimental for the environment. The focus of this kind of action is often the liberation of entreprises, changements in laws that impose limits on mining activity, or an action to delay or interrupt the progress of that kind of bills.
According to a survey lead by brazilian website Congresso in Foco, lobbyists in Brazil work mainly in private companies (37%), law firms (18%), class associations or unions (18%) and public agencies (12%).




Working at one of the biggest law offices in Brazil, Carlos Vilhena defines himself as a "militant in the mineral area". In 2015, it was reported Vilhena used his own noteboo to create and to make changements in a bill proposed by federal deputies for the new Mining Code, which defines the rules of the sector. The Pinheiro Neto law firm, where Vilhena works, has some of the biggest mining companies among its clients, including Vale and BHP. "As a militant in the mineral area for more than 25 years, and not as a member of Pinheiro Neto Advogados, I voluntarily assisted in the drafting of the substitute for the bill of the Mining Code, as well as several other professionals," wrote Vilhena in statement to the press in 2015.


Gomes is the president of Simineral, the Miners'Union of Pará state. The union is a powerful lobby group that has managed to ensure that miners have high export revenues (R $ 50 billion in 2017), paying low taxes. According to journalist Lúcio Flávio Pinto, Gomes commands the mining lobby in Pará. Gomes has extensive experience in the industry trade union area and has been director of several institutions, such as the Federation of Industry of Pará (Fiepa) and the Center of Industries of Pará (CIP). He also served as regional manager of institutional relations for Vale Pará / Maranhão. He is trained in business management.

LEONARDO QUINTÃO (Public authority)

Former federal deputy, Leonardo Quintão was not able to re-elect in 2018 and became political articulator of Jair Bolsonaro's government. According to Valor Econômico newspaper, Quintão is a lobbyist of mining companies and has been able to withdraw, from the provisional measure that created the National Mining Agency (ANM), in 2015, two devices that would increase the inspection of tailings dams, such as the one that collapsed in january 2018 in Brumadinho, Minas Gerais state, killing more than 240 people. Quintão has always acted as a lobbyist in the mining industry and was known to his colleagues in Parliament as "Vale's boy", in allusion to his close relationship with the big brazilian mining company.

JOSÉ FERNANDO COURA (Employers' Union)

President of the Mineral Industry Union of the State of Minas Gerais (Sindiextra), José Fernando Coura is known for his close relationship with mining executives and mining politicians, secretaries of government, mayors and congressists related to the mining sector. In 2018, Coura was the main lobbyist who brought down, in the Minas Gerais state parliament, a bill that was proposed to make dam environmental licensing process more stringent.

Are environmental activists frequently threatened and even killed as shown in "Aruanas"?

Yes, defending the environment is really a risky activity, especially in the Amazon.  A survey by the NGO Global Witness in July last year showed that Brazil is the fourth most lethal country for environmental advocates. In 2018, at least 20 defenders linked to environmental causes and human rights were murdered in the country. Overall, 164 people were murdered around the world for defending the preservation of the environment and for taking a stand against abuses by the state and companies, mainly in the mining and agribusiness sectors. In the ranking, the Philippines appears in first place, with 30 executions, followed by Colombia (24) and India (23).

Between 2012 and 2018, however, Brazil has always appeared in the ranking as the most dangerous state for environmental defenders. In 2017, at least 207 environmental activists were killed in the world, 57 in Brazil - 80% of them in the Amazon. Of the 207 dead, 50 died from mining-related conflicts - but the NGO does not specify how many of these murders occurred in Brazil. According to the NGO, "Brazil has been the most dangerous country for defenders of the land or the environment in the last decade, with an average of 42 deaths per year since 2012".

In addition to the 57 murders recorded in Brazil, there were at least 10 other deaths linked to mining that were not accounted for in 2018. In the Indigenous territory of the Javari Valley, illegal miners killed a dozen members of an isolated tribe in August 2017, according to local witnesses. The victims' bodies were never found and their names were not included in the Global Witness database.

According to a report by the Pastoral Land Commission, in 2019, mining was the main cause of conflicts over water in the Brazilian countryside: 189 conflicts, 39% of the total - whether by preventing access to water to riverside communities or fishermen, either polluting the waters or ignoring legal procedures. In 2018, mining companies became involved in conflicts over land or water in 188 locations in Brazil, and in 156, against Traditional Populations, that is, 83% of the total.


Since 1996, WWF-Brazil has been active in the Amazon. It works in the region jointly with governmental authorities, local and indigenous communities, NGOs, the private sector and others to foster the conservation of the region and its unique biodiversity, functions and ecological services.