The multinational Heineken gave up on building a brewery in the city of Pedro Leopoldo, Minas Gerais, 25 kilometers from the capital Belo Horizonte and just 800 meters from Lapa Vermelha, one of the main archeological sites in the world. It is in this region that in 1974 the fossil of Luzia was found, known as the oldest woman in the Americas. The decision was announced by the company this Monday, December 13th. It was taken, explains a statement, “after a few months of dialogue about the different understandings of the bodies involved and society in general, related to the proximity of the current land with an important area of environmental and archeological preservation in the region.” The company says it will soon announce the new location that will receive the factory.
According to Mauro Homem, director of Corporate Affairs at the brewery, the construction of a new plant at the site would only make sense if it had the support of society as a whole, including those who contribute to the region’s socio-environmental development. “We understand that our stay at the site still divides opinions and that, in order to move forward, we would have to devote more time to carrying out new studies. For all that, we made the decision to look for another area that will meet the demand of the coming years”, he explained. He also highlighted that the company’s decisions take care of people and the environment into account. “We follow all the rites to obtain the environmental license and have court authorization to build the brewery, which demonstrates the legality of the entire process and the way we conduct our operation”, he highlighted.
However, the project has always been controversial, as reported by EL PAÍS in November. Made in December last year, the factory’s announcement was received with enthusiasm by the governor of Minas Gerais, Romeu Zema, especially at a time of acute economic crisis caused by the pandemic. The idea was to invest 1.8 billion reais in a project that would produce 760 million liters of beer per year and generate 350 jobs. In April of this year, the company formalized the orders with the State Secretariat for the Environment and Sustainable Development (SEMAD). The license to erect the plant was granted in August of this year and the works have even started. But they were stopped a month later, after recommendations from the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation (ICMbio) and the Public Ministry of the State of Minas Gerais (MPMG), which asked for the suspension of the license. Heineken appealed, got a favorable injunction, but decided not to resume the works after a request from the Institute of Historical and Artistic Cultural Heritage (Iphan) — the company had not even consulted the body, a mandatory procedure for anyone intending to use the land in the country. The licensing process had yet another inconsistency: it did not present conclusive studies of hydrogeological impacts on the region. Even so, he got authorization from SEMAD to follow the work.
The Brazilian Archeology Society (SAB) even released a note criticizing the conduct of the license and the lack of popular participation. “It is incorrect for the Environmental Licensing process to take place under the tutelage of SEMAD Minas Gerais alone, without the involvement of federal agencies such as IPHAN. Furthermore, it is inappropriate that, in a region of international and notorious archaeological relevance, the so-called Simplified Licensing is applied, exempt from more in-depth studies and archaeological evaluation”, highlighted the note. Professor Andrei Isnardis, from the Anthropology and Archeology department at UFMG, explained to EL PAÍS that the archaeological potential of the region is so great that it is impossible to say how much is already known, even because, according to him, there is a lack of investment in research. “Lapa Vermelha is a complex of caves. Luzia’s skeleton was found in one of them. [Lapa Vermelha IV], but not all areas have been excavated. We know that, without a doubt, there are chances that other discoveries of the highest relevance will be made in the area”, he stated.
Standing around 1.50 m tall, with round eyes and a broad nose, Luzia gained international fame for being the oldest woman in the Americas and revolutionizing the theory of settlement on the planet. It was discovered in 1974 by French professor Annete Laming-Emperaire (1917-1977), during a Franco-Brazilian archeology mission. But its history dates back at least 11,000 years ago. Three years ago, the skull of his fossil withstood a fire at the Museu Nacional in Rio de Janeiro. The construction of a factory in the region where it was found mobilized the archeological community in Brazil and abroad, which sent a letter to the headquarters of Heineken, in the Netherlands. The document highlighted at least three concerns: the possible impact on cultural heritage, the consequences that underground water capture can cause in the region, and the need for clear communication with the population living in the area. “We are deeply grateful to the community of Pedro Leopoldo, who welcomed us with open arms, and to all the partners who joined the Heineken Group in this great project. We will continue together in Minas Gerais, we will evaluate new opportunities within the area we occupy and, for this community that has welcomed us so much, we will make a donation in partnership with the Public Ministry for the preservation of the archeological site”, highlighted Mauro Homem, the director of Corporate Affairs from the company.
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