NewEpoch Media

BRAZIL - Mining in Brazil: A History of Exploration and Domination

March 2, 2019

In the following we want to publish a very interesting article written by A Nova Democracia. We found this translation on



On January 25 this year, a huge environmental crime occurred in the city of Brumadinho, Minas Gerais. Such a crime also happened just over three years ago in the municipality of Mariana, also in Minas Gerais, and with the same involved company - the notorious Vale.


These cases, however, are only "the tip of the iceberg". Mining activity in Brazil has been developed over the centuries by latifundium oligarchies, by the big bourgeoisie and by colonialism and imperialism, as a form of domination and subjugation of the Brazilian people. The deaths due to the inhuman condition that mineral extractivism imposes are not infrequently.

Therefore, it is necessary to review the whole history of mining as one of the pillars of the Brazilian economy, and in what way it has become one of the most predatory activities in the country and responsible for enriching the foreign powers and breaking the nation.


With the crisis of the Sugarcane Cycle in the early eighteenth century, the need to find a new economic way to maintain Brazil arises. The Portuguese Crown and the latifundium oligarchy finance and impulse the intraterritorial expeditions, which existed since the 16th century and were known as Entradas and Bandeiras, with the purpose of exploring the interior of the country and finding natural resources that could be extracted.
Therefore, the Bandeiras were the first mining experiences in Brazil, responsible for discovering the mineral wealth that were present in the interior of São Paulo, Mato Grosso and, especially, in Minas Gerais, where the bandeirantes settled.

These expeditions, which included mestizos from São Paulo and some Portuguese, entered into history as real massacres: enslavement of indigenous and African peoples, Jesuit missions attacked, quilombolas killed, including the fateful destruction of the Palmares Quilombo and the murder of Zumbi dos Palmares . These acts demonstrated what was to come as a result of mining operations.

In Minas Gerais, With the founding of cities for extraction of precious metals, there is a sensitive "urbanization" of the region and a displacement of the national economic poles, given the immense amount of ores present in the region. Thus begins the so-called "Gold Cycle", which will last throughout the eighteenth century, until its decay.

It is known, however, that most of the work that was employed in mining was slave labor. In order to supply the necessary labor, the African slave trade was intensified. It is estimated that by the year 1720, there were about 50,000 slaves working in the mines. Working (and living) conditions were miserable and degrading, as the journalist Lucas Figueiredo shows us:

"Everything was done without any equipment, only with the strength of arms and legs and breath. The result appeared in a few years: the owner of the farm was enriched and the black ended their days tuberculous or pneumonic. [...] Only two meals a day were served ... Sometimes the menu was reinforced with heads or viscera of animals, and when meat appeared there was a good chance that it would be spoiled (some miners had the habit of buying rotten food, sold at low prices). In the daily ration, tobacco and cachaça were not lacking, palliatives for hunger, but when that did not even work, even rats were eaten. At night, in slave quarters, barely protected from the cold and rain, blacks slept on the floor. When they fell ill or suffered an accident, they counted only on God and their knowledge of natural medicine. "

In addition, the extracted gold was absurdly charged by the Portuguese Crown: it was obligatorily cast in Portuguese facilities and, therefore, taxed by a fifth. This taxed mineral wealth was central to the primitive accumulation of European capitalism. Quoting Figueiredo:

"Of the roughly 1 thousand tons of gold mined in Brazil at the rush time, it is estimated that more than 800 tons have gone to Europe. This impressive mass of precious metal helped to strengthen the emerging capitalism, but did more than that. The gold of Brazil, despite having England as a priority destiny, was pulverized through all Europe. In the eighteenth century, France alone used 86 tons of the precious metal of Portuguese America to mint coins. About 30% of the French coins manufactured in 1786 had the gold of Brazil as its raw material. "

In other words, Brazilian gold financed the rise and development of European capitalism and, by using it as a stepping stone, they were able to elevate their domination to the whole world in the epoch of imperialism.

The plundering of the nation and the exploitation of the people led to innumerable revolts, from poles of black resistance, peasant insurgencies, to conspiracies headed by the national bourgeoisie, who were unhappy with the dependency imposed by the colony. To quote the best known, the Inconfidência Mineira [Minas Gerais conspiracy] of 1789.


With the end of the Gold Cycle and, later, of the Portuguese domination itself, we finally became an Empire, whose status ceased to be a direct colony of Lisbon to become a semicolony principally of London, in all spheres, especially economic.

With mining it was no different. Most of our mineral wealth continued to be exported, populations near the mines continued to be exploited, dumped, and subsequently co-opted for labor. The miners still rented slaves to do the work, as the historian Débora Bendocchi Alves shows:

"Slave rent contracts widely varied, but they usually lasted three to five years and could be renewed if it was in the interest of the companies. During those years, slaves could not be freed. It was insured by the slave for a period fixed by a deduction of $10,000 to $20,000 per year. If he died before the expiration of the term, his owner received the amount of insurance from the mining company, but if the slave escaped, the payment was suspended. In 1858, in Morro Velho, the annual rent of a slave ranged between $ 90,000 and $ 240,000 and depended on its category, given its robustness. "

With the end of the Empire and the consolidation of the Republic (oligarchic in essence), the situation did not change much. Despite the formal abolition, the miners maintained the "analogous to slavery" work, which was used on a large scale with feudal and semi-feudal relations. Even the foundation of the state-owned Vale do Rio Doce, after the so-called "Revolution of 30", did not change the problems generated by mining and its destination: to enrich imperialism with the overexploitation of the nation. Among the cases most remembered of incidents, when it was state, is the one of Serra Pelada in the decade of 1980, in the state of Pará.


After the privatization of Vale during the government of Fernando Henrique Cardoso, mining became shamelessly ruled by the imperialist countries and, consequently, the greater part of the profit of the extraction went directly to the imperialist countries. The economist Adriano Benayon already warned that "Vale owns 53.3% of Vale's common voting shares and 32.5% of its total capital. Of this, 43.2% are from foreign investors, and only 18.9% from Brazilians. "

Mining, moreover, to extract the maximum profit by exploiting its workers, continues to use the most degrading working conditions possible on various farms across the country. As reported in 2014, by the newspaper O Globo, in an extraction of the Anglo American mining company in Conceição do Mato Dentro, in the Central Region of Minas Gerais:

"Among those who were subjected to the exhaustive day were found workers who had an average of more than 200 extra hours per month, and others who were working three months in a row, without even a day of rest in this period. There were cases where the resting time between one day and another came to two hours and 30 minutes. "

We have seen, therefore, that unlike occasional disasters, the history of exploitation and domination exercised by mining companies dates back to colonial times, and has been similarly maintained to this day. Mining in the country served only to enrich and consolidate the present imperialist powers, who plundered (and plundered) our wealth, using slavish or slave labor. In short, an activity always marked by semifeudality and semicoloniality


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