In Colombia the protests began on 14 February, when blockades were mounted on roads and railways in the department of Cesar. Over 100 lorries came to a standstill, along with a train of 135 wagons, each loaded with 60 tons of coal. As well as disrupting Vale’s operations, the protests also affected one of Drummond’s mines, also located in the region.
A policeman was killed, several people were wounded, and cars were set on light. The protesters were demanding direct talks with Vale to deal with the pollution caused by the company’s open-cast coal mine, El Hatillo, situated outside the town of La Loma. Vale is known to be keen to sell El Hatillo, with the US bank, Goldman Sachs, being the favorite to take over the mine.
Since thee beginning of the year, Vale has faced protests in Açailandia and Buriticupu in the state of Maranhão in Brazil, in Cateme in Mozambique, in Sudbury in Canadá, in Morowali in Indonesia and now in Colombia. In the state of Pará in the Amazon basin, where Vale is part of the consortium that is building the controversial Belo Monte hydroelectric power station, protesters also occupied the building site for the first dam on the Xingu river, temporarily halting construction work.
Coincidentally, while the protesters were mounting their blockades in Colombia, Vale was announcing its profits in 2011 – 37.914 billion reais, equivalent to US$22 billion. This was the largest profit ever reported by a publicly traded company in Brazil.
In January Vale was voted as the ‘worst company in the world’ in the Public Eye award.