Back to News Toronto Star   Jacob Lorinc Staff Reporter

Nov 10, 2019

   

Industry News

A Canadian company wants to build Brazil’s largest open-pit gold mine:

3  MIN READ

On the morning of the annual Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, in February 2017, a group of samba dancers stood solemnly in front of a massive parade float depicting five venomous snakes, their forked tongues protruding from the back of a bearded man with bloodshot eyes.

The gruesome display was a publicity stunt — a symbol of agribusiness invading the eastern edge of the Amazon rainforest, said the dancers in a press conference that morning. To the delegation of Indigenous leaders in attendance, the monster allegorized several industrial projects recently encroaching on their territories.

Belo Sun, a Toronto-based gold mining company, wants to build the largest open-pit gold mine in Brazil. But locals of the ‘Volta Grande’, on the western edge of the Amazon, say the mine would devastate the communities, potentially causing long-lasting environmental consequences.

Belo Sun, a Toronto-based gold mining company, wants to build the largest open-pit gold mine in Brazil. But locals of the ‘Volta Grande’, on the western edge of the Amazon, say the mine would devastate the communities, potentially causing long-lasting environmental consequences. (Todd Southgate)

For some, it represented the Belo Monte, a massive government-owned hydroelectric dam that flooded the shores of the lower Xingu River, a tributary to the Amazon River. For one delegate, the leader of the Juruna tribe, the monster represented a more recent perceived threat to the communities living near those shorelines — a Canadian mining company by the name of Belo Sun.

“We can’t accept Belo Sun in our region, not in Brazil,” tribe leader Bel Juruna told the thousands of carnival-goers in attendance that day. “We demand that this company leave us alone on our lands, that the government respects us and respects our nature.”

Belo Sun, a Toronto-based gold mining company, wants to build the largest open-pit gold mine in Brazil. But locals of the ‘Volta Grande’, on the western edge of the Amazon, say the mine would devastate the communities, potentially causing long-lasting environmental consequences.

Belo Sun, a Toronto-based gold mining company, wants to build the largest open-pit gold mine in Brazil. But locals of the ‘Volta Grande’, on the western edge of the Amazon, say the mine would devastate the communities, potentially causing long-lasting environmental consequences. (Todd Southgate)

For years, the Toronto-based firm has sought licence to build Brazil’s largest open-pit gold mine, called the Volta Grande, on the southern shore of a 500-km curve in the Xingu. But the Juruna and critics alike have said that the mine would spell disaster for the surrounding ecosystem and Indigenous communities if it’s approved by the Brazilian government.

In particular, activists opposed to mining in the Amazon have long expressed concern over the Volta Grande’s expected use of toxic chemicals like cyanide for gold processing — a common concern among protestors of large-scale mining developments — and say it’s too soon to build in a region where the impacts of the Belo Monte dam, a project approximately 20 km away, have yet to be fully realized. According to court rulings, the company has repeatedly failed to adequately consult the surrounding Indigenous communities on the proposal, leading a federal judge to condemn the company’s actions as “a serious violation of environmental legislation and Indigenous rights” in 2013.

Opposition to the building of the mine in the Xingu region continues at a time when Indigenous communities in the Amazon are growing increasingly susceptible to the effects of rampant development and deforestation that have surged under Brazil’s right-wing government led by President Jair Bolsonaro.

Belo Sun began field research on the Volta Grande mining territory, stretching across the lush outback and rolling hills of the State of Para, in 2008. The company received its first regulatory licence in 2010. The current mining area occupied by the company is over 1,600 square kilometres — more than twice the size of Toronto.

For Belo Sun, a company with a market capitalization of $212 million, the Volta Grande is a business-defining project. If approved, the mine would allow for the extraction of hundreds of millions of tons of gold from the land’s volcanic greenstone rock over the span of 17 years. The company anticipates an average gold production of 205,000 ounces per year, which, at current gold prices, is valued at more than $303 million (U.S.) annually. They estimate construction would cost roughly $298 million (U.S.) to complete.