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Latin America Unites Against Hydro Dams, Environmental Destruction

October 2017

An estimated 5,700,000 people in South America living downstream from dams are negatively affected by them. These dam projects flood communities, forcibly displace families, and are often tainted by human rights violations and repression. According to the Movement of People Affected by Dams in Latin America, energy and construction corporations prey on local communities, enticing them with offers of jobs and token community enhancement programs. These same companies often do not respect even minimal environmental restrictions because of weak government enforcement or regulations. While the prospect of ‘clean’ energy associated with hydropower may sound appealing to corporate investors, the effects dams have on local villages and people are often devastating, and the energy is far from clean.

Addressing this injustice the anti-dam network known as the Movement of People Affected by Hydro Dams (MAR) works throughout the Caribbean and Central and South America to protect river systems and riverine communities from the onslaught of hydro-electric and mining dam megaprojects. The movement, comprised of riverine and Indigenous communities, organizes people who are affected by dams before, during and after construction; defends the human rights of the affected communities; and documents violations. MAR also develop new models of responsible energy production and policies that protect rather than destroy the social fabric of original communities and their environments.

Working across 13 countries (up from 10 last year), MAR is made up of anti-dam movements in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, México, Panamá, Paraguay, and Perú. Collaboration between organizations such as the Live Rivers Movement in Colombia, Patagonia without Dams in Chile, and the Mexican Movement of People Affected by Dams and in Defense of Rivers, for example, has opened the gateway for political and environmental organizers in those countries to share strategies on how best to defend targeted riverine people of the region. Through advocacy and education efforts on water rights, dams, and anti-dam movements, members have been able to increase their skills in organizing and advocating across the hemisphere.

As MAR recently shared with Grassroots International, “In Latin America, dams generally affect and displace peasant communities, [Afro-descendant] Quilombolas, Indigenous Peoples, fishing and riverine communities, among other traditional communities that… live in conditions of poverty accompanied by violation of their rights.”

In addition to the devastating impact of dams on people in the region, MAR adds that “hydroelectric plant involves manipulating and altering the flow of rivers and streams, thereby breaking with the biological chain of life forms associated with river basins, as well as the economic chains that connect the cultures that inhabit the affected territories.”

With funding from Grassroots International, MAR has successfully organized and facilitated two trainings and learning exchanges in the past year. In working to hold hydroelectric investors accountable, these gatherings have enabled participating groups to develop effective community organizing strategies and hone tactics to meet the specific conditions and needs of their nations.

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