Sarah Reader, network and campaigns assistant
On Friday I went to a ThyssenKrupp CSA (TKCSA) steel refinery as part of a Rio +Toxic tour being run by Brazilian civil society groups. The groups planned to take a number of campaigners, researchers and journalists to different sites of corporate exploitation and environmental injustice in the outskirts of Rio so that they can witness the impact of international corporations and meet some of the local people affected by the projects and resisting them.
The idea is to highlight the Brazilian government’s hypocrisy in hosting Rio +20, a conference supposedly aimed at helping progress sustainable development and the protection of the environment, whilst at the same time being complicit in projects that are wreaking havoc amongst local ecosystems and people’s lives.
The tour departed from outside the Banco National de Desenvolvimento Economico e Social- National Bank for Economic and Social Development (BNDES) in the heart of Rio’s business district. Surrounded by huge skyscrapers (and opposite the headquarters of Petrobras – one of Latin America’s biggest energy companies), a small group of people signposted the start of the tour with a big banner explaining the role of BNDSE in funding damaging projects.
BNDES is Brazil’s national, publicly-owned development bank and the largest development bank in the world. In the context of Rio +20, the bank is selling itself as a green bank. However, instead of funding projects that meet the needs of local people and help deal with the climate change, the bank is involved in funding some seriously dodgy corporate projects. The BNDES provided ThyssenKrupp CSA with the loans it needed to make the steel plant in Santa Cruz a reality.
The tour I took part in was a visit to a steel plant which opened in 2010 in the district of Santa Cruz- just West of Rio de Janeiro. ThyssenKrupp CSA has a long record of human rights abuses, corruption and environmental destruction. Several countries refused it permission to open a steel factory, but the Brazilian government conceded.
“…My nose bleeds…because of TKCSA, that’s the mineral dust… our eyes go dry by night and day… I need my health to work and I no longer have the condition to do so".
Aurora Lins, Santa Cruz resident
Since it’s opening, amongst other things, the factory has caused:
1. A continuous shower of metal dust particles across people’s houses, causing respiratory diseases, nose bleeds, skin problems and cancer
2. The diversion of a vital water canal which provided the community with water
3. The collapse of people’s sewage systems;
4. The closing and appropriation of a public highway
5. Emitted enough carbon dioxide to increase emissions in Rio de Janeiro by 76 per cent
A banner on the fence blocking the public highway (and marking the edge of the factory's land) reads: Mr Mayor Eduardo Paes, When can we pass through the bridge? Signed: Community of Santa Cruz.
In addition to the impacts the factory has had, there has also been a viscous clamp down on protest and civil society organising, with paramilitaries employed to intimidate residents. According to one local resident, the violence from paramilitaries and police is more extreme than violence from narco-trafficking in the district.
A TKCSA security guard is not amused by the attention the steel plant is receiving
After being taken to the periphery of the plant and unnerving the private security and police by taking photos and talking in groups about the company, we made our way to a small café that had been turned into a centre of resistance. As you walked in, banners and hand painted placards lined the walls from different ThyssenKrugg CSA protests, and the walls were decorated with colourful pictures. Photos showing the impacts of the factory, including sewage levels, the impact on fishing and areas that had been cut off by TKCSA, had been hung from the ceiling across the room.
We then spent over an hour talking to local residents and community organisers who have been involved in the struggle against the factory. I spoke to Maria Regina de Paulo and her mother whose house had been covered in metal dust particles (which have been causing serious illnesses in the town). I also spoke to Rosemari Almeida Lopes who developed acute ‘allergies’ that made her face swell up when the factory opened and explained how local doctors were being threatened and intimidated by the company and forced to ignore its responsibility for the outbreak of illnesses.
Maria Regina and her mother (top) who were exited to meet people who could help spread the word about their struggle. Rosemari shows the metal dust which caused severe allergies and her face to swell up.
There was then a chance for some of the other residents to tell their story, including a fisherman who talked about how thousands of fisherman have lost their livelihoods since the factory opened, and not only have been banned from fishing in certain waters, but most of the fish have died. We also heard about two university academics who published research about the impact of the factory and have since been intimidated by TSKCSA. A community organiser then read out an internal statement issued by TKCSA claiming that local residents were ‘dangerous radicals’ that wrere intent on spreading lies about the company, and that there’s nothing wrong with the metal dust or anything coming out of the factory.
“We’re living in a capitalist world, and those who have money have a voice and power. We do not have a voice.”
Santa Cruz resident
After finishing off with a speech about how important it is for people to disseminate these people’s stories and the impact the steel factory has been having in Santa Cruz, we said our goodbyes and got on the coach to head back to the centre of Rio.
The banner reads: Residents, fishermen and workers demand that TKCSA's socio-environmental and health impacts be measured. "Compensation now!!!"
The Rio +Toxic project will culminate with a closing session on 20 June at the People’s Summit, for which they’Trve invited everyone who participated and helped organise the tours to reflect on their experience and to start planning for how to build stronger international resistance to exploitative projects and extractive
Source - www.wdm.org.uk