2015-11-23 By Kenneth Maxwell
Last week, the Bodleian Library at Oxford University, released a digital text of a newly discovered poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley, first published in London anonymously in 1811. Shelley was 18 years old at the time.
The poem was long lost. It has now been made public for the first time in over 200 years.
Shelley attacks the “rank corruption” of the ruling class in a fiery denunciation of war and oppression, the abuse of the press, and dysfunctional political institutions.
All of which reminded me of an Brazilian carnival lyric I heard in 1965, the year I first arrived in Brazil: “Rio de Janeiro:/My joy and my delight!/By day I have no water/By night I have no light.”
By 1967 I was living in a small apartment on the top floor of a building at the corner of the Rua Figueiredo de Magalhaes and the Avenida Nossa Senhora da Copacabana. Torrential rain and mudslides washed away part of the highway between Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo.
We suffered for weeks of power outages. I had to walk up the stairs each evening since the power supply to the city was very intermittent and the lift was not working.
What struck me at the time was the total lack of reaction and empathy from the Brazilian authorities at the loss of lives, homes, and livelihoods by those affected by this truly natural disaster, including an acquaintance of mine, who was killed when the bus he was traveling on to Sao Paulo was swept away in a mud slide.
I thought this indifference was attributable at the time to the military regime.
But almost 50 years later in the response of the political class in Brazil to disaster seems to have changed very little.
It took the Brazilian President, Dilma Rousseff, a week before she flew over Minas Gerais in a helicopter to observe from on high the consequences of the dam disaster in Mariana.
It was a belated gesture oddly reminiscent of George W Bush when he flew in his presidential jet over New Orleans, devastated by hurricane Katrina, on his way back to Washington after a weekend spent at his ranch in Texas.
What Dilma Rousseff saw from on high was the result of the tidal wave of mud and debris from the two breached dams of the Germano iron ore mine, which unleashed 50 million cubic meters of sludge and iron mine waste, causing a huge ecological disaster, which destroyed the village of Bento Rodrigues below the dams.
Nine people were killed and nineteen are missing.
Widespread ecological damage has been caused down stream along the river systems of Minas Gerais and into the state of Espirito Santo, and eventually out into the coastal waters off shore where the Rio Doce reaches the Atlantic Ocean.
“Rio Doce” is an ironic name in the circumstances. It literally means “fresh water river” in English.
Samarco, which operates the Germano iron ore mine, is jointly owned by Anglo-Australian multinational BHP Billiton and Brazilian multinational mining company Vale.
BHP shares shed 9% of their value and Vale shed 9% in New York last week.
Samarco produced 30m tons of iron ore pellets per year.
This represents 3% of BHP and 5% of Vale’s production.
Vale was privatized by the government of Fernando Henrique Cardoso in 1997, though the Brazilian government retains “golden shares.”
BHP Billiton has expressed more concern with the disaster than has the Brazilian government.
It is a company which stresses “sustainability, integrity, and accountability” as its guiding principals. The collapsed dams in Brazil will test these commitments to the full. The concern will be much more than loss of money and reputation.
Dilma was the minister of mines and energy. She was a great promoter of dams in the Amazon, projects much criticized by environmentalists. Dilma is originally from Minas Gerais.
But her initial lack of reaction to the humble victims of the disaster in her home state is only too familiar.
It is a blot, nevertheless, not only on her, but on the whole lack of democratic accountability, sensitivity, and responsibility, which still characterizes the Brazilian political class.
And it should also be remembered that her principal political rival, Senator Aecio Neves, was after all, also the governor of Minas Gerais for two terms.
Percy Bessey Shelly’s “a poetical essay on the existing state of things” was an execrating view of the political dysfunction of early 19th century England.
His title unfortunately could equally well apply today to “the existing state of things” in Brazil.
According to a story by Frik Els published on November 16, 2015:
Vale (NYSE:VALE) said on Monday that it would take several years for Brazil’s Doce river to recover following a deadly tailings dam burst at an iron ore mine it jointly owns with BHP Billiton (LON:BHP, ASX:BHP).
In an update Friday, BHP revealed that mine tailings—a mix of water, iron and other waste materials such as silica — extended 440 kilometres (273 miles) downstream into a neighbouring state through remote mountain valleys from the mine site in Brazil’s Minas Gerais state. The accident left nine people dead and 15 are still missing and 11 communities affected.
BHP in a separate conference call on Monday said 600 people who have lost their homes have been put in hotels while rental properties are being considered. The operator of the mine, a standalone company called Samarco, ceased work immediately when the Germano dam was breached. The company’s mining licence has now been suspended and all workers put on paid leave.
According to Brazilian state and federal authorities Samarco on Monday had agreed to pay a “preliminary” 1 billion reais (around $260 million) to cover the cleanup costs which could run into billions of dollars and compensation claims. The two mining giants have already been fined $66 million by the Brazilian government and Vale said on Monday costs and fines have alreadyexceeded insurance against civil damages.
BHP also said it will be conducting a review of two other South American joint ventures with a similar structure to Samarco. According to a transcripts the Anglo-Australian giant will look into restructuring the Cerrejón coal mine in Colombia owned equally with Anglo American and Glencore.
Another joint venture with Glencore, Antamina, Peru’s biggest copper and zinc mine, will also come under scrutiny. BHP and Glencore each have 33.7% stakes with Canada’s Teck Resources holding 22.5% and Japanese conglomerate Mitsubishi 10%. BHP could consider moving to a structure typical in the oil business where operation is left to a party separate from the owners.