Dam Collapse: Chronicle of a Disaster Foretold

(Bloomberg) --

The horrific collapse of a dam owned by Brazilian mining giant Vale – with the death toll likely to reach the hundreds and widespread environmental damage – highlights a mix of failed government oversight and laws that favor mining interests over public safety.

Joao Vitor Xavier, a legislator in mineral-rich Minas Gerais state, had been warning of such a calamity since late 2015, when another so-called upstream dam co-owned by Vale failed, killing 19 people.

While authorities vowed action at the time, Xavier’s proposed state law banning upstream dams withered in the legislature. Mining companies didn’t join the debate. “They thought it was easier to sink the bill,” he says.

Other proposed legislation – at both state and national levels – failed. Instead of hiring more dam inspectors, the government slashed budgets. In Minas Gerais, four federal inspectors police more than 400 dams.

Chief Executive Officer Fabio Schvartsman says Vale will close upstream dams. And unlike some prior leaders who shirked disaster scenes, new President Jair Bolsonaro, a former Army captain, was at the site of the tragedy within 24 hours.

But Xavier remains haunted by his past warnings. For him, neither catastrophe had to happen.

Dam Collapse: Chronicle of a Disaster Foretold

Global Headlines

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Dam Collapse: Chronicle of a Disaster Foretold

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What to Watch

  • Trump meets Chinese Vice Premier Liu He at the White House this afternoon. Liu is in town for trade talks.
  • Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer is urging intelligence officials to “stage an intervention” with Trump after the president chided them as “extremely passive and naive.”
  • The European Union is prepared to take Brexit down to a last-minute, high-stakes summit rather than cave into U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s demands over the next few weeks, diplomats say.

And finally...Venezuela is home to rich gold deposits and holds billions of dollars of foreign reserves in gold bars in the central bank’s vaults. As President Nicolas Maduro comes under pressure to resign and as the U.S. sanctions crude exports, the question is — how much is there? While crude is by far Venezuela’s largest export, refined oil and gold are key sources of revenue. Lawmaker Jose Guerra set off a social media storm this week with claims a Russian plane was in Caracas to spirit away 20 tons of the yellow metal.

Dam Collapse: Chronicle of a Disaster Foretold

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