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Brazil’s “Green Energy” too Costly, say People Affected by Dams

November 2012

Before becoming Brazil’s first female president, Dilma Roussef helped to engineer an ambitious development plan that would change the country. Known as the Accelerated Growth Plan and the Ten-year Energy Plan, it would build 134 dams by the year of 2020 in the Amazon alone. Among the losers in the plan: thousands of acres of forest; habitat for endangered species; and thousands of families unfortunate enough to have ancestors who chose to settle these lands. According to Grassroots International’s partner, the Brazilian Movement of People Affected by Dams (MAB), the ambitious development plan failed to include any funding to offset hunger and unemployment, or to revamp public services for those displaced populations whose livelihoods will be wiped.

The Brazilian Amazon has four main rivers, from west to east: Madeira, Tapajós, Xingú, and Tocantins.  The Tapajós River is one of the last free rivers in Brazil and Latin America. Its waters run a 513-mile course from the state of Mato Grosso to the Amazon River – roughly the same distance as between Augusta, Maine and Washington, DC.  The Tapajós River provides food and life to thousands of people along the way and sustains diverse ecosystems, habitats for endangered species.

But the Roussef government is not taking that into consideration. After the completion of the Belo Monte dam, the next big project is to dam the Tapajós River.

With international investors’ funds, the government plans to build three new dams along the Tapajós River. According to local communities which have received very little information about the dams, international investors are backing the construction of the main dam of São Luiz do Tapajós. This new dam will flood roughly 528.2 square miles of land, an area 11 times the size of the city of Boston, Massachusetts.  The new dam’s wall will rise 128 feet high and stretch over 2 miles long. The projected lake will be 2.65 times bigger than that created by the Belo Monte dam. Despite its enormity – and the anticipated loss of land and environmental diversity – the new dam in Tapajos will generate 6.133 MW, about 55 percent of the energy expected from Belo Monte.

Whose river, whose energy?

The interest of international investors goes beyond the dams. Their target is the energy that those dams will produce to supply future industrial plants and mining operations in which they have a major interest.

The energy produced by Belo Monte and Sao Luiz de Tapajós will be sold to factories and mining operations at a lower rate than to local families. MAB is campaigning through the country to educate urban and rural families about the fact that they are paying the highest electricity rate in the world.

Thousands of indigenous and peasant families whose livelihood depends on the river for fishing and agriculture will be severely impacted once the wall is built. As in the case of the families that will be affected by the Belo Monte dam, local communities have not been received prior information; neither were they consulted about the project. Yet according to Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization both prior and informed consent are required prior to construction. Sadly, government officials and investors regularly disrespect the people and ignore the requirement.

Armed with copies of the project and expertise in grassroots organizing, MAB is meeting with each community that will be affected by the Sao Luiz do Tapajós dam to share the details of the project. As they go along, MAB is organizing small groups of families that will support local communities along the Tapajós River.

The communities that will be affected by the dam construction in the Tapajós River have been fighting for territorial rights for almost two decades. The government has neglected their many claims.

In the name of “development,” government downplays environmental impacts and land rights

In an interview to the newspaper Valor Econômico, Mauricio Tolmasquim, the president of the Research Center on Energy (EPE), which is linked to the Brazilian Ministry of Energy, said “the Tapajós presents a new situation to the government. We never worked in an area like this one.” Despite recognizing the environmental impacts the dams in Tapajos River will cause. Tolmasquim believe “the projects are viable.”

To pave the way for the construction of the dams, government allies in the Brazilian national congress approved a new law (n. 12/2012) redefining the area of the Amazon National Park, the National Park of Crepori and Mapinguari and the National Forest Reserves of Itaituba I and Itaituba II. The law basically paves the way for construction of the new dams by reducing the protected areas and providing land titles to local families. Ironically, the government will provide land titles for a price to many families will likely lose their land by public domain. In essense, it is like putting a price tag before taking it from the hands of local communities.

MAB leaders visit the US

This November, two national leaders of the Brazilian Movement of People Affected by Dams (MAB) are visiting Boston, New York and Washington, DC. The main goal of the visit is to foster new alliances in the US around the issues of water rights and energy.

Josivaldo Alves, a farmer whose family was affected by the construction of the Castanhão dam in the Northeastern state of Ceará, is also concerned with the effects of climate change in coastal communities. “Our politicians have been gambling with this serious issue of climate change. They are promoting false solutions like cap-and-trade mechanisms that allows polluters to continue polluting, thus generating more climate instability. They are using these carbon credits to raise funds to build more dams that are displacing people from their ancestral land,” Josivaldo explains.

Josivaldo is joined by Alexania Rossato. She is daughter of farmers in the region of Dona Francisca hydroelectric plant in the state of Rio Grande do Sul. Trained in journalism, Alexania has coordinated MAB’s communications sector since 2004. “We are coming to the US during a moment of duress for many families in the East Coast,” Alexania notes. “In the time we share together her we hope to talk about our common problems and how to solve them. Like our allies in the US, MAB believes in international solidarity to build a stronger movement for a better World.”


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