Brazil: Heineken threatens the home of America’s oldest woman | Society

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A reconstruction of Luzia's face, made by the forensic facial reconstruction specialist Cícero Moraes.
A reconstruction of Luzia’s face, made by the forensic facial reconstruction specialist Cícero Moraes.Cicero Moraes

Standing 1.5 meters tall, with round eyes and wide nose, Luzia rose to international fame for being the oldest woman in America and for revolutionizing the theory of the population of the planet. It was discovered in 1974 by the French professor Annete Laming-Emperaire (1917-1977) during a Franco-Brazilian archaeological mission. But its history dates back 11,000 years. Three years ago, she, or rather her fossil skull, became famous by resisting a fire at the National Museum of Rio de Janeiro. Now, Luzia appears again in the pages of newspapers together with the Dutch giant Heineken, while mobilizing the Brazilian community of archaeologists. The multinational beer company intends to install a factory 800 meters from Lapa Vermelha, the cave complex where the fossil was found, in the Brazilian city of Pedro Leopoldo, 25 kilometers from Belo Horizonte, capital of Minas Gerais.

The announcement, made in December last year, was received with pomp by the governor of Minas Gerais, Romeu Zema, especially at a time of acute economic crisis due to the pandemic. The brewery’s project is to invest 1.8 billion reais (330 million dollars) in the venture that should produce 760 million liters of beer per year and generate 350 jobs.

In February the project was considered a priority. In April, the company formalized applications with the State Secretariat for the Environment and Sustainable Development (SEMAD, in its Portuguese acronym). The license to build the plant was granted in August this year and construction has already started. It was stopped a month later, following the recommendations of the Chico Mendes Institute for the Conservation of Biodiversity (ICMbio) and the Public Ministry of the State of Minas Gerais (MPMG), which requested the suspension.

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Heineken obtained a favorable precautionary measure, but decided not to resume the works for the time being, following a request from the Institute of Historical and Artistic Cultural Heritage (Iphan). The company had not even consulted the agency, a mandatory procedure when trying to start works like that in Brazil. Another inconsistency occurred in the licensing process: conclusive studies on hydrogeological impacts in the region were not presented. Even so, the brewery got SEMAD to authorize the continuation of the work.

Professor Andrei Isnardis, from UFMG’s Department of Anthropology and Archeology, explains that the archaeological potential of the region is so great that it is impossible to say how much is known since, according to him, there is a lack of investment in research. “’Lapa Vermelha’ is a cave complex. Luzia’s skeleton was found in one of them, but not all areas have been excavated. We know that, without a doubt, there are possibilities for other highly relevant discoveries to be made at the site, ”he says.

According to SAB president Ângelo Alves Corrêa, the way the licensing process was carried out suggests that the secretary of state turned a blind eye. “The company did not even register the activity characterization form (FCA) in the Iphan, which had to have intervened in the process. The company presented studies on the Sumidouro Park, five kilometers from the company’s headquarters, but did not present details about the impacts of the works on the Lapa Vermelha archaeological site, which is only 800 meters away, ”Corrêa questions.

The superintendent of priority projects of the SEMAD, Rodrigo Ribas, refutes it. “The Lapa Vermelha caverns were the subject of additional information, which was requested by SEMAD. The studies indicated that they are not in the directly affected area and that the potential impacts have efficient controls,” explains Ribas. The control measures were presented to SEMAD by Heineken itself.

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The works of the Heineken factory.
The works of the Heineken factory.DOUGLAS MAGNO

The issue has been gathering momentum and has already mobilized the archaeological community in Brazil and abroad, which will send a letter of complaint to the headquarters of the multinational in the Netherlands. The document highlights at least three concerns: the possible impact on cultural heritage, the consequences that groundwater extraction could have in the region, and the need for clear communication with the population living in the area. The archeology professor at the Federal University of Bahia, Carlos Alberto Etchevarne, mobilized the archaeologists, together with his colleague Maria Jacqueline Rodet, from the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG).

Construction work on the new Heineken factory has come to a halt

Experts believe that if the company had gone to the Iphan, it most likely would have chosen another place to install the factory. But the Iphan only found out about the matter after the embargoes. After that, it has already inspected the place and has recommended that Heineken keep the works paralyzed until they are regularized by the body. The company accepted.

Heineken affirms that its premises are respect for the environment and transparency in all its actions. “We are sure that the process of obtaining the license followed the normal process and, despite the latest court ruling on the case that allows the complete and immediate resumption of our activities, we have voluntarily decided to keep the works suspended while we contribute to the discussion with the organizations involved ”, said the note. The company’s website describes the multinational’s alignment with the green economy proposals.

The dispute between the historical past of the place and the economic future of the region reveals the divergent opinions of the control organisms. Ribas, of the SEMAD, maintains that the license does not depend on the approval of the Iphan, for example.

María Jacqueline, who is also a researcher at the UFMG Museum of Natural History and the Botanical Garden, remembers that if the relief decomposes, the cavern could collapse. “This is very serious,” he says. She also questions the fact that an international company presents itself in a zone of cultural and environmental preservation and does not commit itself. “I think these companies take advantage of the lack of local knowledge in a country with a high level of unemployment. But what then? They explode the water, they leave, and the liabilities [ambientales] they stay here, ”he says.

Fabio de Castro, professor at the Center for Latin American Studies at the University of Amsterdam, affirms that the country where Heineken is based has solid institutions and mechanisms for participation in this type of decision. “To simply give a case from my own experience: in the neighborhood where I live there was a long discussion to approve the cutting down of some trees for the construction of a residential building. At present, there is a major conflict in Groningen over the exploitation of gas that affects the structure of houses. The population highly values ​​natural spaces, which are protected and guarded, ”says Castro.

Ribas, from SEMAD, says that hydrogeological studies were requested in July. “Everything happened before the ICMBio recommendation (in September),” he says. Asked about the fact that the license has been released before the presentation of these studies, he points out that these can be presented after the license, since the company has the option of presenting a substitute for the collection model. “And if there are other ways to ensure recruitment, it can be authorized before the studies,” he stresses.

The entanglement with the factory frustrates the city of Pedro Leopoldo, who saw in the new factory a possibility of boosting the local economy. “The news of the stoppage of the works was a sad surprise. In the protection zone in which the brewery is being established, there are other large companies that have never caused great damage to the environmental heritage of which we are so proud ”, says the note from the municipal government, although it does not specify the distance of the other companies of the archaeological park.

Gislene Monticelli, professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul (PUC-RS), points out that the situation of Heineken in Pedro Leopoldo reflects the cultural and political differences of the present time. “In many countries, the works are not carried out without archaeological monitoring,” emphasizes Monticelli.

For the population of Confins, on the border with Pedro Leopoldo, there is an additional concern about the future water supply. The president of the Confins Airport Neighbors Association (ACBA), Juliano Coelho da Silva, has already sought out the representatives of the public powers. “It is not that we are against the installation of the factory, but we want things to be clear, because the water that will be used for the production of beer will come out of the subsoil, and in the subsoil there are no borders,” he says. The hydrogeological issue was the central point of a request for hearings made by Councilor Paulo José de Oliveira, during the vote on the licenses in August 2021.

The license was approved on August 24, with only one vote against, that of Oliveira, who represents the Pro-Pouso Alegre Environmental and Speleological Association (APPA) in the State Council for Environmental Policy (COPAM). “It is clear from the project that a very large consumption of water will be needed. This could affect the water table, reach the caverns, compromise the water supply and affect tourism. Beer production will generate taxes, but what after? What if it hurts tourism, which is also an important source of income? ”He asks.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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