Since 2006, the company Bahia Mineração (BAMIN) is developing a large iron ore mining project in Caetité in the south of Bahia, one of the new mining frontiers in Brazil. BAMIN was formed by the Indian company Zamin Ferrous specially for exploiting iron ore in Bahia. Between 2008 and 2010, all its shares were acquired by the Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation (ENRC) from Kazakhstan, which was later transformed in the Eurasian Resources Group (ERG), holding company based in Luxembourg. The project, named Pedra de Ferro (iron stone), was designed to have its iron ore transported by the Brazilian West-East Integration Railroad (FIOL), which is being built by the Federal Government, and by the South Port (Ilhéus, Bahia), which is being built by the Bahia Government in partnership with BAMIN itself – both large enterprises responsible for various conflicts in southern Bahia.
Even before the environmental licensing process, BAMIN purchased land from residents of traditional communities and public lands in Caetité, collectively used as pasture, source of medicinal herbs and firewood. The letter by Comissão Pastoral da Terra describing the public hearings for the presentation of the Environmental Impact Report held in July 2009 in the cities of Brumado, Caetité, Malhada and Pindaí even spoke of the "disappearance of black communities" in the region. According to the letter, at the hearings, the civil society of southwestern Bahia stood against the whole enterprise surrounding the Caetité iron ore project, including the railroad and the port in Ilhéus (Comissão Pastoral da Terra, 2009). However, in spite of the manifestations contrary to the project, BAMIN obtained the localization and installation licenses in 2010 and the operating license in 2014, with construction beginning in 2012. At the same time, also, manifestations in opposition to the project grew significantly.
In 2011, two regional meetings in Bahia assembling farmers, trade unions, social movements and traditional communities reinforced opposition to mining in the region. In the first, the Affected by Mining in the São Francisco River Basin emphasized the impacts of mining on water pollution and depletion, defending “the right to priority use of water by communities” (Encontro dos Atingidos e Atingidas pela Mineração na Bacia Hidrográfica do Rio São Francisco, 2011). In the other, assembling the Affected by BAMIN-FIOL-South Port (Bahia), was produced a letter rejecting the complex of projects being implemented in the State of Bahia for exploration and export of iron ore. Accordingly to the letter, “The works are being licensed and executed in total disregard for the nature and life of the populations that surround them (...). Thousands of families from Caetité to Ilhéus are threatened with losing their homes and fields of work for the execution of these projects, which will only benefit a foreign company” (Encontro dos Atingidos e Atingidas pela BAMIN-FIOL-Porto Sul, 2011).
In addition, the growing dissatisfaction with BAMIN in Caetité resulted in an increasing mobilization of local communities. On July 3, 2013, about 150 people closed a side road that served as access to the works of BAMIN and FIOL (as well as wind power plants being installed in the region). In August, religious black communities of Caetité won the reinstatement of the possession of the Terreiro de Axé Ilé Cicongo Roxo Mucumbe de H’Anzambi, whose area had been appropriated by the mining company, but had been declared as Brazilian afrocultural patrimony in 2006. Finally, also in 2013, on September 17, local communities prevented the entry of 30 workers from BAMIN in the area of the sources of Pedra de Ferro River, where they intended to clear part of the native forest (see Map of Environmental Justice and Health in Brazil, Fiocruz).
Since the continuation of the project seemed inevitable, one of the main concerns of local communities was the construction of a tailings dam at the Permanent Preservation Area (APP) of the Pedra de Ferro River, located in Caetité and Pindaí (BA), where 32 springs feed the river responsible for the water supply of families in the municipalities of the semi-arid Caetité, Pindai, Licínio de Almeida and Ibiassucê. In contrast to the Environmental Impact Report, which stated that only 3 families were supplied by these waters, the survey of Comissão Pastoral da Terra found that more than 230 families were supplied daily by them and that 3,000 families of the municipality of Pindaí received water from the same place in the dry season through tank trucks (Comissão Pastoral da Terra, 2014).
In response to such problems, in addition to those already described (expropriation of territories of traditional families, enclosures of areas of collective use, etc.), the first Popular Assembly of Mining in Bahia was held in the municipality of Pindaí (neighboring Caetité) in July 2017. It had an important participation of the local community with more than 300 people attending the assembly. Objectively, the referrals and proposals of the assembly were the convening of a public hearing between government agencies and impacted communities, immediate suspension of the tailings dam license, recognition of public lands, compliance with the constraints imposed on BAMIN, especially related to relocations of traditional communities (Assembleia Popular da Mineração, 2017).
In October 2017, communities in conflict with Bamin won a first victory. In response to one of the community demands, the Public Ministry recommended that BAMIN not install the tailings dam in the Permanent Preservation Area. According to prosecutor Luciana Khoury, the installation of the dam at the site "could have serious impacts on the springs and waterways" and "cause serious damage to the traditional way of life of communities (...) living in the region." BAMIN should then presente alternatives to the dam and the sterile pile locations to the Public Prosecutor's Office, as well as keep intact the native vegetation of the entire Permanent Preservation Area and promote the complementation of Environmental Impact Studies (MAM – Movimento pela Soberania Popular na Mineração, 2017a). In order to see these recommendations met, the communities decided to press Institute of Environment and Water Resources (INEMA) of Bahia through an occupation of the public agency on November 27, 2017. Although the results related to the recommendations are still uncertain, INEMA has committed to send a specialized technical team to oversee the BAMIN project (MAM, 2017b).