Environmental Crisis in Brazil Sparks Political Conversation

By Lyndsey Cole
Staff Writer

In early November, Brazil was faced with an environmental crisis when a dam on the Doce River burst, sending tons of toxic waste from an iron mine into the Atlantic. According to Reuters, the damn burst killed at least 17 people while BBC reports that 11 people were still missing a month later.

Andres Ruchi, director of the Marine Biology school in Santa Cruz, told BBC that the disaster is likely to have a lasting impact on the environment. He indicated, “The flow of nutrients in the whole food chain in a third of the south-eastern region of Brazil and half of the Southern Atlantic will be compromised for a minimum of 100 years.” The mine sludge was found to have contained arsenic, mercury, and many other toxic substances at high levels, making the water unfit for human use and consumption.

John Knox, reporter for the United Nations on human rights and the environment, told the Guardian that the amount of waste which spilled into the river was the equivalent of 20,000 Olympic swimming pools.

The Brazilian government plans to sue the mining companies in charge of the dam, BHP Billiton and Vale, for an amount valuing $5.2 billion. However, this amount is much less than what banks originally estimated would be the cost of clean-up. This, among claims from the United Nations that the Brazilian government and the mining companies were failing to respond to the disaster, is prompting questions as to the effectiveness of any local government measures.

Brazil’s government has faced much controversy over its actions regarding not only the mine clean-up, but Brazil’s failing economy. According to the New York Times, a severe recession has cost Brazil more than a million jobs in 2015 alone. Instead of dealing with these crises, critics of the government believe that leaders are focusing on scandal within the political system. This has led to the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff.

Citizens of Brazil are questioning the impeachment proceedings, led by “someone corrupt with zero credibility,” according to Aroldo Casagrande, a Brazilian business owner. Eduardo Cunha, the speaker of Brazil’s lower house, set the impeachment in motion but is facing backlash himself for claims that he took bribes from oil companies and deposited the money into Swiss bank accounts.

Despite this controversy, others believe the impeachment case for President Rousseff is convincing. It is widely believed that she took bribes to help finance her political campaign, and that she covered up budget problems with funds from state banks. Others argue that Cunha is enacting impeachment simply for his own personal revenge against Rousseff.

Brazil’s political infrastructure is laced with corruption, with 40 percent of the congress having been found to be involved in scandal during their time in office. “Every political Party we have here is despicable,” Moura Ferriera, a security guard in Rio De Janeiro, said to the New York Times. The Brazilian economy is expected to continue to drop, while the impeachment process for president Rousseff may last for months.


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