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"Aruanas" series, which debuted July 2 in 150 countries, tells the story of an NGO created by three friends to protect the environment.
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 big 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 explore an environmental reserve in order to expand the business with devastating environmental and social impact.
Aruanas is an original production by Globo, exclusively for Globoplay streaming service, with co-production by Maria Farinha Filmes, creation and script by Estela Renner and Marcos Nisti, written with Pedro Barros, with artistic direction by Carlos Manga Jr and general direction by Estela Renner.
As part of an unprecedented strategy, Aruanas has mobilized activists from around the globe through the support and engagement of more than 20 international and national NGOs, including WWF.
The issues present in Aruanas may raise a number of questions about the environment in the Amazon and about the role of activists. What is real or fiction in Aruanas?
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. The mining also has dramatic social impact. Thousands of miners have recently trespassed indigenous territories in Roraima, causing diseases and cultural conflicts. Driven by economic reasons, Brazilian government encouraged mining through the creation of roads for gold mining areas, establishment of gold mines reserves and increase of gold import taxes in order to boost domestic production.
In addition to environmental damage and contamination risk, illegal mining finances land grabbing and violence, such happened in 2017 in Humaitá (Amazonas state), after an environmental surveillance operation has prevented illegal mining in Madeira river. In an area located 675 kilometers from Manaus, the action performed by Brazilian environmental inspection agencies, the National Force, Navy and Army, seized and destroyed 37 ferries used by illegal miners. Three days later, the miners reacted and set fire to the offices of environmental agencies Ibama, Incra and ICMBio.
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 people 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 5,000 miners work - 92% of the inhabitants are poisoned by mercury. 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 activists 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 this 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.
May mining companies 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. Last year, 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 launches 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. Last year, 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 amount of mercury released could reach 221 tons. 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 activities are close to be legalized in the reserve of Cari - 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 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".
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 Global Witness, in July last year, showed that Brazil is the most lethal country for environmental advocates. In 2017, at least 207 environmental activists worldwide were killed, 57 of them in Brazil, and 80% in the Amazon. Out of 207 dead, 50 where killed in conflicts related to mining - but the NGO does not specify how many of those murders took place in Brazil. According to Global Witness, "Brazil has been the most dangerous country for the defenders of 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 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 2018, the mining companies became involved in conflicts over land or water in 188 localities in Brazil. Most part of those, 156, involved indigenous people. . In 72% of the locations in which the miners were involved in conflicts, water issues was directly implicated, either by preventing access to water for riverine communities, fishermen, and ebb tidal rivers, either by polluting water or by failing to comply with legal procedures.
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 enterprises, changes 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 em Foco, lobbyists in Brazil work mainly in private companies (37%), law firms (18%), class associations or unions (18%) and public agencies (12%).