BlogVale's community relations office in Moatize, Mozambique/ Photo: Eric Cezne

By Eric Cezne

In recent years, Brazil has been affected by a struggling economy and considerable political turmoil (Boito and Saad-Filho, 2016Garmany and Pereira, 2018). In the meanwhile, Brazilian mining giant Vale S.A. (henceforth Vale) has faced a series of setbacks and negative appraisals in light of the destructive and lethal tailings dam tragedies at iron ore extraction sites in Brumadinho (2019) and Mariana (2015), both in the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil. Yet, not that far back, assessments used to take a different tone. For most of the 2000s and early 2010s, favorable domestic and international circumstances allowed the Brazilian state to increase its diplomatic standing (Abdenur and Marcondes, 2014Burges, 2017Cezne and Hamann, 2016), and Vale to seek new resource frontiers abroad (White, 2013Moldovan, 2018Milanez et al., 2018). This has been particularly noticeable in Mozambique, where Brazil laced the increase of its economic footprint into the language of cooperation, solidarity and cultural proximity (Alden et al., 2017) and Vale was awarded the concession of the Moatize coal reserves – one of the world’s largest unexploited coal deposits (ADB and OECD, 2008: 464). Vale’s arrival is among Mozambique’s largest foreign direct investments (FDI) following more than a decade of conflict (1977–1992) and has raised hopes of a shift in economic landscapes: from one dependent on Western aid to one centered on investments, new partnerships with the “emerging powers”, and South–South cooperation (Alden and Chichava, 2014Alden et al., 2017Nogueira et al., 2017).

InfraGlob’s latest scientific paper Forging transnational ties from below: Challenging the Brazilian mining giant Vale S.A. across the South Atlantic, written by team member Eric Cezne and published at The Extractive Industries and Society,  brings a critical, bottom-up perspective to Vale’s expansion as a Southern mining multinational. It does so particularly in the context of Brazil–Mozambique relations by discussing how the internationalization of Vale has concomitantly provided opportunities for contestation synergies to be explored and articulated from below and along a South-South axis. In this vein, the paper describes and analyzes the origins and politics of the mobilization of the International Articulation of those Affected by Vale (Articulação Internacional dos Atingidos e Atingidas pela Vale), or simply the Affected by Vale (Atingidos pela Vale, henceforth AV), which was established in 2009. Focusing on the transnational ties forged between Mozambican and Brazilian civil society within the AV, the paper picks up on alternative flows and experiences of (inter-)Southern cooperation and highlights how and under which circumstances these have been harnessed to challenge Vale’s extractive activities in both countries – and beyond. As such, this paper provides a timely, empirically backed contribution to scholarship approaching resistance dynamics in the extractive industries (see Acuña, 2015Conde, 2017) while adding to a burgeoning literary analysis of South-South civil society partnerships and advocacy networks (see Bond and Garcia, 2015Shankland and Gonçalves, 2016Milhorance and Bursztyn, 2017).

Building on “political opportunity theory”, particularly as it is developed in the works of Tarrow (19982005) and Meyer (20032004) on the politics of social mobilization, this paper argues that the AV’s ability to transnationally engage in contentious politics is shaped by specific opportunities. These are given by the external, and often shifting, circumstances in the broader political system (termed “the political opportunity structure” in this theory), which in turn affect actors’ ability and propensity to mobilize – and to do so effectively. Relying on these theoretical insights, this paper’s argument is underpinned by the following research questions: How did Vale’s globalized scope and internationalization act as a political opportunity for the establishment of the AV, and how did this contribute, more specifically, to the forging of transnational ties between Mozambican and Brazilian civil society? How did the AV engage in transnational, collective action, and to which ends? And to which extent have variations in the surrounding political opportunity structure, particularly in Brazil and Mozambique, changed the AV’s incentives and prospects for mobilization over the years?

The article draws on data from two field trips to Mozambique, carried out in June 2018 and between October and December 2018, and one research visit to Brazil in April 2019. The fieldwork in Mozambique was conducted in the country’s capital city Maputo, in the central province of Tete, where Vale’s Moatize coal mining concession is located, and along the length of the Nacala Corridor, the railway that connects Vale’s mine to the Nacala port facilities on Mozambique’s northern coast. The research visit to Brazil encompassed the cities of São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Brasília. As part of the research for this paper, Eric  interviewed representatives of grassroots groups within the AV in Mozambique and Brazil, academics doing research on Vale and Brazilian FDI in Africa, a former Vale executive, and Brazil’s Foreign Minister Celso Amorim (2003–2010) and conducted a focus group with Mozambican extractive industry business consultants. The information obtained during fieldwork is complemented by the analysis of key AV texts such as the Articulation’s annual reports and meetings’ dossiers as well as website and social media content.

Note: This entry is a preview of the author’s journal article ‘Forging transnational ties from below: Challenging the Brazilian mining giant Vale S.A. across the South Atlantic’ (2019), published by The Extractive Industries and Society and an output of the InfraGlob project. You can read this article in full here (open access).