Those most directly harmed by Kinross’s expansion project were the quilombola, people of African descent living in three nearby rural settlements founded by freed slaves in the 19th century.
Quilombola communities hold legal ownership rights over their traditional lands. The three communities — Machadinho, Amaros and São Domingos — had been formally recognized by the federal government as quilombola and were engaged in a land claim process to secure collective title to their territories when Kinross assumed ownership of the mine in 2004.
Kinross’s expansion plan included building a tailings facility — a large reservoir that holds a slurry of solid and liquid waste — on land within the territory of Machadinho. The expansion also affected the territories of Amaros and São Domingos. State authorities granted licences and easements for the project with no regard for the communities’ outstanding land claims or right to be consulted. The company meanwhile pursued deals with individual quilombola residents to acquire the plots they occupied. Many agreed to vacate their plots, despite the outstanding collective land claim process. Some, like this resident of Machadinho, describe feeling pressured to leave their land:
“People will sell, people are forced to sell, but they’re unhappy. Everyone sells, but they’re upset. How can they stay? There’s no way.”
The quilombola residents with whom our researchers spoke said they entered into such agreements without legal advice. At least one was illiterate. Some quilombola also claim that Kinross promoted divisions within their communities and isolated leaders who criticized its actions. One community leader reports receiving anonymous death threats that she believes are linked to her criticism of the company.
Kinross asserts that it acquired land within the quilombola territories legally, through fair negotiations with each family, and that quilombola residents who abandoned their traditional land did so voluntarily, renouncing all rights to the area.
The Brazilian federal government put a hold on all three communities’ land claims processes in 2009, while the licensing process for Kinross’s project sped along. Two public ministries — independent bodies of public prosecutors charged with upholding constitutional rights — filed lawsuits attempting to halt licensing until quilombola rights were addressed. While both succeeded in securing injunctions, these were overturned by higher courts due to the communities’ lack of formal title to their lands.
Kinross proceeded with its expansion project, rendering large areas of quilombola land unsuitable for occupation or use. No quilombola remain within the territories of Machadinho and Amaros. The matter of the three communities’ land rights has never been settled.