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In mid April, 2013, artisanal brickmakers of Moatize, Mozambique, affected by the largest open-pit coal mine of multinational company Vale were violently repressed during a demonstration. As a response to this situation, the company promised to meet with the brickmakers (called “oleiros” in that country) to negotiate their demands. The claims by the workers and communities include: payment of compensations by the loss of their jobs caused by the installation of the mine, the delivery of housing –in good condition- to families displaced by the mining project and the distribution of lands of enough quality and quantity, since the families were granted less lands than promised, and of bad quality on top of all.
The response promised by Vale was delayed week after week, and the brickmakers decided to hold a new demonstration blocking the railroads to access Vale´s coal mine, according to Ruben Manna, member of Justica Ambiental – Friends of the Earth Mozambique in interview with Real World Radio.
The company did respond, but with repression and criminalization against the local population. On Tuesday, May 14, in an attempt by the police and members of the Rapid Intervention Force of the country to clear the blockade, three community leaders were arrested. They are Isac António Sampanha, Chaibo Charifo y Refo Agostinho, who had been arrested the previous months in the same circumstances.
According to Manna, the Mozambican law does not allow the police to keep people in custody for over 48 hours without formal charges. The leaders were detained for six days and only after the fourth day of being arrested they were told what the charges against them were: disturbance of public order and death threats against a Vale officer. This last accusation was withdrawn because the officer in question could not provide any information about the supposed threat.
Manna believes this is clear: “this is a move by the Mozambican government and Vale to discredit the struggle of this people, to discredit this community, that is asking something completely fair”. The member of JA said that Vale granted around 2000 dollars to each brickmaker to stop their activities. Then, in negotiations with the government and the company, they would agree on the amount to compensate them, which was never respected.
1365 families were displaced by the Vale mining project. These families, that make up over 5000 people, were relocated in the new settlements of Cateme and 25 de setembro. In addition to the fact that the houses built there have several problems, such as cracks in walls and ceilings, the displaced population denounced the low quality of lands given.
In a recent publication (What is a house without food? Mozambique´s Coal Mining Boom and Resettlements) the organization Human Rights Watch denounced how mining investments both from Vale and Rio Tinto (multinational company that also has a coal mine in the region) is damaging the food sovereignty of the population of Moatize district.
The report gathers some testimonies of the people displaced by these megaprojects in that region. One of them is Maria, a rural farmer displaced by the Rio Tinto coal mining project: “The farming land we received [upon resettlement] is red, not black like we had before. I tried to grow maize and it died. Sorghum also failed. The new house is just a house. I am not that satisfied. What I can say is, what is a house without food? I cannot eat my house”.
Manna concluded saying that the permissive attitude in favor of extractive industries by the Mozambican government is one of the main problems faced by the population of his country, and made reference to the Indian capital mining company Jundal, which is also exploiting coal in Moatize “with populations living within the area granted for mining extraction”.
“No queremos ser mártires, no queremos que hayan más mártires en este país, pero también hay una responsabilidad histórica de hacer valer la palabra y demostrar que tenemos derecho a la construcción de un mundo mejor. Y no podemos huir a esa responsabilidad”, dijo a Radio Mundo Real la dirigente garífuna Miriam Miranda, coordinadora de la Organización Fraternal Negra Hondureña (OFRANEH).
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