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Mariana: Tragedy of Market Fundamentalism Against the Earth and the Poor

“Mariana: Tragedy of Market Fundamentalism Against the Earth and the Poor”

by Alexandre A. Martins, MI


In his encyclical letter Laudato Sí, Pope Francis affirms: “Today […] we have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor” (LS no. 49). “The cry of the earth and the cry of the poor” is an expression that Leonardo Boff, in a book with the same title (Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor, Maryknoll: Orbis, 1997), has used as a motto in his advocacy for the earth and the poor. Boff stresses that the poor are the first and the most affected by the unlimited exploration of the earth grounded on a machinistic paradigm of infinite progress. Using Pascal’s notions of spirit of geometry and spirit of finesse, Boff says that the modern capitalist world is led by a spirit of geometry. This spirit sees the earth as a source to be explored by human force and reason. With the advent of industrialization, free market, and the victory of capitalism, the spirit of geometry became a machine of destruction, exploitation, and injustice. This has made the earth a private property of those who hold this machine. As a result, the earth is crying in a passion of suffering, the source of life that is dying. Together with the earth are the poor who are also crying as victims of this machine and excluded from accessing the goods of the earth.

            The cry of the earth and the cry of the poor is a motto for a different approach to the earth and its resources. It is a cry for ecological and social justice. Boff argues we need the spirit of finesse over the spirit of geometry. The spirit of finesse rises from contemplating the harmonic beauty of creation. It is a spirit of tenderness, caring, humility, and community. It is a wisdom that comes from the heart. Augustine called it intelligence of the heart. According to Boff, a new paradigm of progress must be based on the spirit of finesse, a tender and humble spirit that recognizes the wonder of the earth as our common mother who provides every resource we need to flourish and, at the same time, her limits as a fragile mother who deserves our care. The native peoples of Latin America express this relation with the earth in a maternal way by saying Pachamama, the great mom earth.

            Pope Francis defends an “integral ecology” in which he invites us to assume values of “great sense of responsibility, a strong sense of community, a readiness to protect others, a spirit of creativity and a deep love for the land.” And he adds: “These values are deeply rooted in indigenous peoples” (LS no. 179). These peoples, humble and poor, the first victims of environmental devastation, have essential values to teach the whole humanity, especially those who build their power and status in a spirit of geometry of unlimited exploration of the earth and inhumane exploitation of the poor. The spirit of geometry has the market forces as its main instrument of exploration and exploitation. This instrument is killing our great mom earth and her little children, the poor. Pope Francis clearly affirms: “The environment is one of those goods that cannot be adequately safeguarded or promoted by market forces” (LS no. 190). Just as Boff calls for a new paradigm, Francis joins his call by invoking an ecological and community conversion. “This conversion calls for a number of attitudes which together foster a spirit of generous care, full of tenderness” (LS no. 220).

            Spirit of finesse, spirit of generous care, full of tenderness is a perspective that recognizes the beauty of creation in which we, humans, are living in the same common house, the earth. This spirit seems to be far away from market forces that are grounded on a fundamentalist paradigm of unlimited exploration and exploitation of the earth. This is a market fundamentalism that causes the earth and the poor to cry in their agony of death. Theologically speaking, this cry is once again the powers of the world dismissing and crucifying the truth of caring and justice to keep the status quo. The cry is the identification with Jesus’ suffering on the cross, visible in the face of the poor, victims of market fundamentalism.

            The tragedy in Mariana, a city in Brazil’s state of Minas Gerais, is an example of the result of market fundamentalism and the failure of its forces to care for the earth. Minas Gerais is the richest mineral state in Brazil. This natural resource has been explored by multinational companies led by a group called Samarco Mineração SA. Two companies shape Samarco, the Australian BHP Billiton and the Brazilian Vale (that has participation of many international investors). In November 05, 2015, two mining dams in the region of Mariana collapsed creating a sea of toxic mud on the cities around the dams, killing dozens of people and destroying thousands of homes. Rio Doce, the main river of the region, was also killed by the toxic mud that is moving throughout the river on its way to the Atlantic Ocean. Consequently, a long process of ecological destruction and humanitarian crises has devastated the entire region. People have lost their homes and goods, and the water supply for hundreds of thousands of families has been damaged. Their main water resource was polluted and there is lack of drinkable water. The poor are those who are more affected by this tragedy, the fruit of negligence by Samarco in the course of years of unlimited mineral exploration in the region and lack of proper environmental care and responsibility. Public authorities are also responsible for this disaster by being complicit with private companies and never properly regulating their actions. In addition, State and Federal governments, and the legislative power have failed to address this disaster, to point out the responsible groups, and to help the victims. (It is important to remember that the company, Vale, is the single largest donor funding political campaigns in Brazil, with millionaire “donations” to every party.) This short description about the tragedy in Mariana is an example of market fundamentalism responsible for the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.

            Market fundamentalism must be combated with the same force used to combat religious fundamentalism connected to terrorism. The tragedy in Mariana is a terrorism attack led by a fundamentalist ideology that controls market forces. Market fundamentalism is killing people around the world every day. It kills the weak, the poor, the vulnerable, and the areas where they live. Market fundamentalism is killing our great mom earth and will kill everybody if we don’t combat it. It is a moral problem that requires a moral answer able to lead the world into a new paradigm of generous care.

            Finally, the tragedy in Mariana shows that we must learn from the poor, their solidarity and creativity. People from this region have shown their generosity in helping one another. All, directly or indirectly, have been affected by this tragedy. They have organized themselves to support victims by simple gestures that make all the difference, e.g. a family opens the door of its home to welcome individuals who have lost theirs; an old woman goes to the church to cook for hundreds of people gathered there; a priest creates a shelter in his home for refugees. If nothing can be done, they share their suffering in faith and hope. Luciano Mendes de Almeida, a great friend of the poor who was bishop of Mariana, used to say: “When we cannot do anything, we can at least be together and listen.” Conversion begins with listening to the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.