“They humiliated us and treated us with contempt,” she said in February of the Canadian energy company Colossus Minerals, which spent $300 million over the past eight years trying to reopen the mine. “Everyone powerful here was bought by Colossus. There was not one judge, police chief or prosecutor on our side.”
Vale chose not to reopen it as the price of gold rose. Instead, in March, the company passed the rights to Coomigasp. “The deposits were small and not economically viable,” Vale said.
The deal put Coomigasp, and its directors in a powerful — and exploitable — position and raised the hopes of ordinary garimpeiros that they might once again find great wealth.
From the start Colossus, a company that was founded in 2006 and had no other major interests, was favored by the co-operative’s directors, federal prosecutors said. It was the only firm that bid on the mining contract, an inevitability after the co-operative, led by president Valdemar Pereira Falcão, published the tender just six days before the deadline for proposals, they said.
The contract between the co-operative and Colossus was signed in July 2007, giving the Canadian firm a 51 percent share of the deal to extract the remaining gold, using modern equipment and a deep shaft near the original mine. Falcão had acted to prevent competition in a way contrary to the interests of its more than 40,000 members, prosecutors added.
In May 2008, Josimar Barbosa, a Coomigasp ex-president, died after being shot 13 times by two assassins on motorbikes. He had opposed Falcão. Two days before his death, Barbosa won a court battle to return to his post as president. His murder remains unsolved and the police investigation has been shelved.
With tensions rising, a veteran public-security official, Guilherme Ventura, was deployed by the federal government as a moderator. He proposed razing the village to clear space for the new mine. That plan was never carried out.
By 2010, the co-operative had agreed to rewrite the contract with Colossus to give the Canadian firm a 75 percent share, up from 51 percent. “There was no convincing explanation for the reduction [in Coomigasp’s share],” federal prosecutors noted in alawsuit seeking to annul the contractual change, which was rejected but is pending on appeal.
Colossus and Coomigasp, then led by Gessé Simão de Melo, an ally of Falcão, “availed themselves of cunning tricks and the misuse of union funds” to intimidate the “humble and uneducated” garimpeiros into approving the contract, they said.
Scrutiny of the behavior of several Coomigasp directors intensified when state prosecutors alleged that Brazilian subsidiaries of Colossus had paid $16.9 million to the directors’ personal bank accounts.
“They were bandits, cruel, cowards,” she said. “They came in, took what they wanted, then left at dawn.
“Colossus had no respect, none.”