Now Socorro knows. For years she has fought against Norsk Hydro. Based in Norway, the company has 35,000 employees spread over 40 countries. As Norsk Hydro says on its website, “Brazil is Hydro’s main source of the important raw material bauxite.” For big transnational corporations, that’s what a country is: a source of raw materials. After being extracted in Paragominas and Trombetas, the ore goes to the “world’s largest alumina refinery outside China,” as described on the company’s website. This refinery that fills the Norwegians with so much pride is called Hydro Alunorte, and it lies in the land where Socorro lives. Barcarena is also home to Albras, a joint venture between Norsk Hydro and NAAC—Nippon Amazon Aluminium Co. Ltd., a consortium of Japanese corporations, trading companies, consumers, and manufacturers of aluminum products. Hydro Alunorte was built on one of the headwaters of the Murucupi River, which used to propel the lives of tens of thousands of the peoples of the forest and family farmers.
In March 2018, the Evandro Chagas Institute, part of the Brazilian Health Ministry, detected high levels of aluminum, iron, copper, arsenic, mercury, and lead in the Murucupi River. Alunorte was suspected of leaking toxic waste, and the Brazilian courts shut down part of its production. But the plant is back up and running. Over the years, Hydro companies have repeatedly been charged with environmental contamination, but the battle is extremely lopsided. It always has been. When contacted by Atmos, Norsk Hydro contested the institute’s report, denied any responsibility for river contamination, and claimed that its production practices are environmentally sustainable. The company also claims that it has worked to strengthen its relations with the region’s communities as part of its sustainable development goal.
The indigenous quilombolas of Barcarena have charged that nonstick pots and pans, beer barrels, and plane parts all contain a bit of their blood. But the wealthy part of the world is hard of hearing. When she hears the word “Norway,” Socorro’s body tenses all over. When she met with the European climate activists, they found her horror puzzling, because Norway—like the mythological figure of Hydra—has several heads, one of which poses as an environmental defender. Socorro leads an association nearly 20 thousand strong, and on a trip to the country of her nightmares to attend a climate crisis event, she says she took along a couple of bottles of water and offered one to a Norsk Hydro director. “Do you want to drink my water or yours?” she asked. He didn’t choose hers.