Danilo Chammas

Land and environmental rights.
Justiça Nos Trilhos

He is a lawyer and human rights defender in Maranhão, a north-eastern Brazilian state with abundant natural resources. He was born in São Paulo, where he graduated in law and worked until 2007. He was part of the legal team of the commission on human rights of the city council, as well as the executive secretary of the Inter-American Foundation for the Defense of Human Rights.

In 2008 he visited Maranhão for the first time, invited by the network Justiça nos Trilhos (Justice to the Rails). They began a collaboration that consolidated over the years. In March 2010, after finishing a law degree in Canada, Danilo Chammas returned to Brazil and settled in Açailândia, a municipality in the interior of Maranhão, again, at the invitation of Justiça nos Trilhos (JnT).

JnT was established in late 2007 as a campaign to voice the struggles against the mining company Vale. In 2009, in the framework of the World Social Forum (WSF) in Belém do Pará, JnT organized a series of seminars.

This event was a space for exchange which brought together people from different countries and regions in Brazil, whom all lived in territories affected by the operations of the Vale.

The success of the WSF, and “the necessity imposed by reality,” in the words of Chammas, prompted the JnT to become a more solid network, with a team that works on four fronts: popular advocacy, education, communication and promotion of economic alternatives. To this day, Chammas’ task is to coordinate the legal team.

JnT organizes its work from two hubs, São Luís, and Açailândia, which are 500 km apart. It also maintains important links with more organisations that struggle against rights violations committed by the Vale. JnT brings traction to the International Association of People Affected by the Vale, founded in Rio de Janeiro in 2010. It is also part of the Observatory of Minor Conflicts in Latin America (OCMAL), the Ecclesial Pan Amazònica Network (REPAM) and the Network Churches and Mining, and has a long collaboration with the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH).

Interview with Danilo Chammas

What are the main negative effects of the activities of Vale a Maranhão?

There are many. Among others, the deaths of people and animals hit by their trains; Sound pollution (trains also pass at night), as well as air, water and land pollution; the degradation of the phreatic layers and private access to igarapés (Amazonian streams), which affects water security and the food sovereignty of the populations; house foundations damaged due to the vibrations the trains generate; Land grabbing and displacement of families and communities; attacks on traditional forms of life and agriculture; the improper appropriation of cultural manifestations; criminalization of social protest, espionage and infiltration of agents, and attacks on the freedom of association, belief, and expression against community leaders, and the sexual exploitation of women and adolescents.

In addition, the operations of the Vale add a burden on women, whose bodies are prone to exploitation under the patriarchy that dominates in such contexts. In the end, women are the ones that are usually dependent on food, the quality of the land and the ones that take care of ill people.

The EFC train mostly passes through areas inhabited by traditional and indigenous peoples. Does the activity of the Vale have specific impacts on them?

Absolutely. The operations of Vale in Maranhão and Pará affect the culture and spirituality of traditional populations and threaten their survival and food sovereignty. There are cases of Quilombolas communities in Maranhão that encounter many obstacles, imposed by the Vale, when it comes to the recognition of collective ownership of their lands. The train lines threaten indigenous peoples with whom there has been no contact established yet. It is also a motivation for illegal deforestation in the region. The pollution of the rivers derived from the operations of the Vale is another factor that clearly affects the traditional populations of the Brazilian Amazon.

What is the role of the Brazilian State in relation to the human rights violations committed by the Vale?

In general, the State is connivant with the violations of rights and the environmental damages committed by the Vale. In fact, the State owns a considerable part of the company’s shares and gives broad support to its businesses by granting generous loans, allowing tax exemptions and omitting public body controls to investigate environmental, tax, labor laws, etc.

What about the public opinion, is it sensitized to the issue?

Part of our job is to raise awareness about public stories that very few know. We also want to point out that people’s actions or neglect have a direct or indirect relationship with the damages and violations that occur in the territories where the Vale operates. It is a challenge, because in many places the narrative of mining as a “necessary evil” or “progress at any cost” is still very present and ends up placing people and institutions in a situation of submission in relation to the interests of the company.

What are the future prospects for the activities of Vale a Maranhão?

The Carajás project is currently undergoing an expansion process, which plans the opening of new mines, the construction of a new 100 km rail branch, the duplication of the entire Carajás railroad, and the expansion of port structures. Last year, the Vale, under the Carajás project, extracted and transported a record 203 million tons of iron ore. In this region, there are still many sites which the company can convert into new mines at any point. With the interruption of operations in Minas Gerais, the trend is the intensification of operations in Carajás, which will cause greater pressure on the communities and ecosystems of Maranhão and Pará.

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