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Brazil/Canada: Toxic Mega-Mine Looms Over Belo Monte’s Affected Communities April 12, 2017

Posted by rogerhollander in Brazil, Environment, First Nations, Latin America, Uncategorized.
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Roger’s note: it may be that Canada has a young hip looking (if vacuous) Prime Minister and a reputation for being more peace loving and less aggressively capitalistic than the United States, but that image is belied by Canadian mining companies in Africa and Latin America.

On the banks of Brazil’s lower Xingu River, a toxic controversy looms large, threatening to heap insult upon the grievous injuries of the nearby Belo Monte hydroelectric dam. In early February, the Canadian company Belo Sun received the final operational licence for its proposed Volta Grande mine from the Pará state environmental agency (SEMA-PA). The sprawling nearly 620 square-mile concession would become Brazil’s largest open-pit gold mine, straddling the territories of three indigenous peoples and other traditional communities that are already reeling from the many social and environmental impacts of Belo Monte.

Since field research for the mine began in 2008, the peoples of Xingu have publicly decried the occurrence of human and environmental rights violations in the lead-up to the mine’s construction. They have also warned of the likely negative social and environmental impacts that the mine project will cause, and recently they and their allies have taken these complaints to the courts.

First, they have denounced that some of the land on which the mine will be constructed was purchased illegally, given that it is land that the federal government designated for agrarian reform in the 1980s. Second, the mine is close to the village of Ressaca, a community of 300 families, all of whom would be displaced and have not been relocated by the company as required.

Third, local communities fear that the project may well end in a tragedy, like the Samarco Mariana dam collapse in 2015, given that Belo Sun intends to use a mining waste storage dam similar to the one used in Samarco. And even if the mine did not suffer a major catastrophe, the environmental and health impacts of the liberal application of cyanide, arsenic, and other toxic chemicals frequently employed in gold mining would lead to dire implications for communities already dealing with the dramatic changesto their way of life caused by the Belo Monte dam.

In a small piece of good news for communities, on February 21st a judge issued a 180-day injunction on the license in response to a legal complaint filed by the local public prosecutor’s office. In doing so, Judge Álvaro José da Silva Souza recognized that the license issued by SEMA-PA had ignored the community’s complaints, that the allegations of illegal land purchases warrant further investigation, and that the company had not fulfilled its promises to properly relocate the families that would be displaced by the mine. As Judge da Silva said in issuing the injunction, “I understand it to be completely absurd and unjustifiable that the families are currently still at the mercy of their own luck.”

The ruling gave the company 180 days to develop a plan to reallocate impacted communities. The company insists that it will appeal the decision.

Public hearing airs concerns and condemnations

Such concerns were front and center at a March 21st public hearing in the city of Altamira, where Belo Monte’s affected communities aired their grievances to a panel of government and corporate representatives, including from Belo Sun.

After attending the hearing, local analysts described the companies’ neglect of the affected communities as an intentional tactic meant to give them no recourse but to accept meager resettlement plans far from the river and their traditional livelihoods.

During the hearing, Janete Carvalho, an environmental licensing agent from the Brazilian indigenous agency (FUNAI), recalled the toxic legacy of the 2015 Samarco disaster on the Doce River, which killed nineteen people and left another 700 homeless, as a warning to those threatened by Belo Sun. “The closest indigenous territory to Samarco is more than 300 kilometers away and the Krenak people still do not have enough clean water to live,” she stated. “Any accident by Belo Sun will create a situation of ethnocide. The risk is unacceptable.”

FUNAI representatives reiterated that their office does not recognize the mine’s original environmental impact studies and demanded that a new, more rigorous, analysis be conducted that respects the communities’ right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent.

“We would like prior consultation to be conducted,” said Chief Gillarde Juruna of Miratu village, located only six miles from the mine’s epicenter. “I was born and raised in that region. We never asked for any project and now there are two of Brazil’s largest projects there. We have no guarantees.”

To address these irregularities, FUNAI filed a lawsuit against Belo Sun in February charging that its installation license was issued by completely ignoring the indigenous agency and its demands that the project’s impact assessment and licensing adhere to a specific study of its impacts on nearby indigenous communities. That case is currently pending.

“Who are you lying to, Belo Sun?”

At the close of the contentious hearing, public prosecutor Humberto Alcântara Ferreira Lima raised serious concerns about the true size and scope of the Volta Grande mine. He revealed a major discrepancy between the mine’s projected gold production as reflected in the license granted by SEMA-PA (pending resolution of Judge da Silva’s injunction) and what the company is telling its investors it will extract. Licensed on the basis of a 2012 estimate that the project will yield roughly 37.7 million tons of gold, Belo Sun has separately touted different projection numbers to its investors: 88.1 million tons in 2013 and most recently 116 tons in February of this year.

“What is the real dimension of Belo Sun’s Volta Grande gold mining project?” asked Mr. Lima. “The one disclosed to Brazilian public institutions or the one disclosed the company’s shareholders, which is more than three times as large? Who are you lying to: the investors or the [licensing agencies]?”

Map of proposed Belo Sun operations

Like Belo Monte, Belo Sun is likely to cause more harm than good

One thing is clear: Belo Sun’s mega-mine is shrouded in irregularities and incalculable risk, much like its neighbor, the Belo Monte dam. Like Belo Sun, local communities and allies warned of the serious environmental and social impacts of Belo Monte, and, unfortunately, those dire warnings have proved prescient. And also like Belo Monte, the corporate interests behind the mine demonstrate neither concern nor prudence, rushing instead to initiate operations at any cost.

Belo Sun is owned by Canada’s Forbes & Manhattan, a private merchant bank. Canadian mining giant Agnico Eagle Mines is the company’s largest shareholder, with a 19% ownership of Belo Sun. Known for its notorious Malartic urban gold mine in Quebec, Agnico is subject to no fewer than 4,000 violations of environmental laws and regulations and is subject to a CAD $70 million lawsuit for its impacts on local residents.

The struggle to preserve what is left of the lower Xingu’s environment and communities from another catastrophic mega-project is not over. Even as political and economic forces line up behind Belo Sun and the region’s untapped riches, the local communities and their allies prepare to resist them. Amazon Watch has been standing with the communities of the Xingu for many years, and we will we not give up our support for them now!

The World Cup Exposes Brazil’s Injustices June 6, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Brazil, Economic Crisis, Latin America, Sports.
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Roger’s note: How wonderful it was to see Lula, the leader of the workers’ party win the Brazilian presidency, and now followed by Dilma, another lifetime labor leader in the presidency.  And is it a surprise, that despite a leftist government, the rule of Capital continues to dominate in Brazil?  Mining interests, lumber interests, big agriculture, and all the rest of the world of corporate capital, they know how to handle politicians of all stripes and have their way over the interests of poor and indigenous peoples, not to mention the environment.  Is it not once again obvious that something more that electing leftist politicians to high government office is going to be what it takes to ensure genuine social and political equality?

 

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On June 12th the World Cup kicks off in Brazil; the country has been beset by protest in the run up to the tournament.

Last year up to a million people demonstrated across Brazil: protesting the vast expense of the World Cup, calling for better public services and an end to corruption. On June 3rd, the police were accused of heavy handedness as protestors gathered outside the World Cup Stadium in Goiania, during a friendly football match between Brazil and Panama. The demonstrators condemn the 15 billion dollars spent on the tournament which could have gone towards social services and improving living standards for the poor of Brazil. It’s the latest in a long line of demonstrations.

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But now Brazil’s poor favela residents and the indigenous and tribal people have joined forces. On May 28th in Brasilia, 1,500 residents of the favelas, indigenous people, students and many other Brazilians from all walks of life took to the streets, gridlocking them for hours. Some occupied the roof of the Brazilian Congress, including members of the indigenous Guarani tribe who carried banners saying, ‘Guarani resiste, Demarcacao ja!’ ‘The Guarani are resisting. Yes to demarcation!’

Police fired tear gas and stun grenades into the crowd. One policeman was reportedly shot in the leg with an arrow.

2014-06-04-MEDIANINJAPROTESTSMOKEBOMBS27THMAY.jpgSmoke bombed protesters, Brasilia May 27th 2014. (Credit: MEDIANINJA)

At first glance the inhabitants of Brazil’s urban slums, the favelas, and the indigenous people of the Brazilian Amazon may not seem to have a common cause. But both groups face violence with impunity from police and the military, poverty, land insecurity, neglect by the authorities. The Brazilian government is brushing them under the carpet.

On June 9th the legendary Chief Raoni Metuktire and his nephew Chief Megaron Txucarramãe, members of the Mebengôkre Kayapó tribe in the Brazilian Amazon, will arrive in London to gather support for the Kayapó and for all the tribes across Brazil in their struggle to protect their ancestral lands and way of life. They are urging the Brazilian government to demarcate the region known as Kapôt-Nhinore, which is sacred to the Kayapó. They will be holding a press conference on June 9th – I will be there to speak in their support, as Founder and Chair of the Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation (BJHRF).

It is a critical time for indigenous rights in Brazil. The Kayapó, and all the indigenous peoples of the Amazon are threatened; by mega-dams, illegal mining, logging, occupation by settlers and ranchers, and by companies and large corporations, by proposed legal reform and constitutional amendments which if allowed to go ahead will strip the tribes of their territorial rights, and endanger their livelihoods and cultures.

Throughout my life I have campaigned on behalf of indigenous peoples all over the world: in South America, Asia and Africa. I have witnessed the suffering of many of these ancient tribes, murdered, threatened, abused, forced from their homes and deprived of their way of life. Millions of indigenous people have become refugees in their own land and we don’t know how many thousands have lost their lives.

2014-06-04-PROTESTERBEINGTREATED.jpgProtester being treated after gas exposure, May 27th. (Credit: MEDIANINJA)

The values of indigenous people have shaped my relationship to the earth, and our responsibilities towards her. During my thirty years of campaigning for human rights, social justice and environmental protection, I have campaigned on behalf of many indigenous tribes in Latin America: the Miskitos and Mayangna in Nicaragua, the Yanomami, the Guarani, and the Surui Paiter in Brazil, the Cofán, Siona, Secoya, Kichwa, and Huaorani tribes in Ecuador, and the Quechua in Peru. I learned from their wisdom, and also from their courage. Traditional indigenous cultures use natural resources sustainably: forests, grasslands, rivers and wildlife, and preserve biodiversity. Protecting the rights of indigenous peoples is essential to our survival and that of the planet. Over and over again, indigenous peoples have been proven to be the best custodians of biodiversity in their ancestral lands.

Brazil’s 1988 constitution recognises that the Indians have an ‘Original’ and inalienable right to occupy and use their traditional lands. If it can be shown that the tribe historically occupied and used that area of land, it is theirs by right – it should become demarcated land.

Kapôt-Nhinore has already been surveyed by the indigenous agency FUNAI for demarcation, but the process has been stalled by bureaucracy, and is threatened by proposed changes to Brazil’s demarcation laws and constitution.

In the past Brazil had an average of thirteen demarcations per year. Under President Dilma Rousseff this number has sunk to three a year. The demarcation process has been crippled by an unrelenting barrage of legislative proposals from Congressmen representing large agribusiness, mining corporations and the dam industry, designed to wrest the land from the indigenous tribes and open it to development. It is unconscionable. I urge President Rousseff to halt the Proposed Constitutional Amendment (PEC215) which would further delay the process for demarcations and claims: and would result in few, if any further demarcations being approved.

Brent Millikan of International Rivers states, ‘constitutional amendment PEC 215 would transfer authority for demarcation of indigenous lands from the Executive branch to the Congress.’ Demarcation would become a political decision; power of the Executive being transferred to the Legislature, an abuse of the separation of powers, a foundation stone of the Constitution. Since the Congress is today dominated by the Bancada Ruralista – the large landowners’ lobby – it is highly unlikely that any demarcation would be granted. Even if it were, finding time for Congress to debate each demarcation would mean even more delays introduced into the process. Because the change would effectively be retrospective, Congress would also acquire the power to reduce or reverse territories (TI’s) which have already been demarcated.

I urge President Rousseff to halt PEC 215 and the other proposed amendments to the Brazilian Constitution and laws which are eroding the indigenous peoples’ right to their ancestral lands. Some proposals would open up indigenous territories for mineral and oil extraction – mining companies have already begun to lodge claims to the territory. Some would not only permit, but effectively force the indigenous people to allow cattle ranching and agriculture on their land. If allowed to go ahead, these changes could destroy the forest and traditional lives of the Kayapó and many other tribes across Brazil.

I call on the Brazilian government to enforce the Kayapó’s rights to their land, which are enshrined in the 1988 Constitution. I appeal for protection for the hundreds of tribes in the Brazilian Amazon who are continually threatened by landowners, illegal mining, logging, occupation by settlers and ranchers, and by companies and large corporations which continue to trade in produce from illegally farmed crops on indigenous territory, by reckless development projects which threaten their lives and livelihoods. Otherwise indigenous people will continue to be murdered, abused and pushed off their ancestral land.

2014-06-04-PROTESTERSPEC215CREDITMAIRA.JPGProtesting PEC 215. (Credit: Maira Irigaray, Amazonwatch)

Among the most monstrous of these projects is the Belo Monte Dam, which is under construction on the Xingu River in the Brazilian state of Pará, in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon. Belo Monte will be more than a dam; it is a megadam, the third largest in the world, which will displace 20,000 people and change the Amazon basin forever. It is a grave human rights violation and an environmental crime

I have campaigned against Belo Monte for many years. In March 2012 I went on a fact finding mission to the Xingu. Construction on the dam had then just begun. I travelled down the Xingu River in a small boat. I was accompanied by my courageous friend Antonia Melo, co-ordinator of Xingu Vivo, a collective of local NGOs opposed to Belo Monte, and Ruy Marques Sposati. We saw the great red scarred coffer dams, the beginnings of Belo Monte, rearing out of the river. I met with indigenous leaders, with local communities, NGOs, government officials, extractavists – and the Bishop of the Xingu, Dr Erwin Krautler, whose concern and care for the people affected by Belo Monte was evident. I was distraught by the suffering I witnessed in the area. I published my findings in a report on the Huffington Post: The Belo Monte Dam, an Environmental Crime. I urge you to read it. The people of the Xingu need our support.

2014-06-04-SUECUNNINGHAMRIOPROTEST2012.jpgProtesters assemble on the beach in Rio de Janeiro during Rio+20, 2012, to protest the Belo Monte dam. (Credit: Sue Cunningham)

And Belo Monte is only part of the plan: on 25 April 2014 it was disclosed in Lima, Peru that 412 dams are planned across the Amazon. 256 of them are in Brazil, 77 in Peru, 55 in Ecuador, 14 in Bolivia, six in Venezuela, two in Guyana, and one each in Colombia, French Guyana and Surinam. Five of the six rivers which run through the world’s largest tropical forest will be dammed – and damned. All over Brazil, even now, the Amazon’s waterways are being blocked and diverted. The river system that provides a fifth of the world’s fresh water is being dammed, polluted and fouled up.

It is imperative that indigenous rights, including the right to free, prior and informed consent, be respected in places like the Tapajós basin, in the heart of the Amazon, where the Brazilian government plans to construct up to 29 large dams, following the same destructive model as Belo Monte.

To the Kayapó each river, the sky, the rocks, all plants, trees and animals have a spirit. The Xingu River is sacred. At least five dams are planned upstream of Belo Monte. If these dams are built, it will be a grave human rights violation and cause irreparable environmental destruction in the Kayapó lands. Already the Kayapó are seeing the impact of the influx of some of the 100,000 workers and migrants who are flooding into the area, bringing overcrowding, disease, alcoholism, violence and prostitution. Anthropologist Paul Little released a report in April 2014, ‘Mega-Development Projects in Amazonia: A geopolitical and socioenvironmental primer.

He writes:

The weight of these socio-environmental impacts is distributed in an extremely unequal manner. The majority of the benefits derived from the construction of mega-development projects accrue to… large multinational corporations, the administrative apparatus of national governments and financial institutions. The majority of negative impacts of these same mega-development projects are borne by indigenous peoples, who suffer from the invasion of their territories, and local communities, which suffer from the proliferation of serious social and health problems.’

In 2009 the Kayapó wrote a letter to Electrobras, the parastatal energy company that is partnering with huge construction companies such as Odebrecht, Andrade Gutierrez and Camargo Correa to build mega-dams in the Amazon and elsewhere in Latin America and Africa.

‘We do not accept Belo Monte or any other dam on the Xingu,’ they said. ‘Our river does not have a price, our fish that we eat does not have a price, and the happiness of our grandchildren does not have a price. We will never stop fighting: In Altamira, in Brasilia, or in the Supreme Court. The Xingu is our home and you are not welcome here.’

2014-06-04-horsies.jpgProtesters confront police. (Credit: MEDIANINJA)

The Brazilian Amazon is one of the wonders of the world. It is critical to survival of the people of Brazil, and people throughout the world. A quarter of all land animal species are found in the Amazon. The rainforest absorbs around 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year. It is vital in the race against climate change. I urge President Rousseff to save it, and put a stop to Belo Monte and the other dams.

The plight of the Kayapó illustrates the failure of governments all over the world to protect indigenous peoples and their ancient way of life. The Kayapó have a rich and ancient culture. Their name for themselves, Mebengôkre, means ‘people of the space between waters,’ but the name ‘Kayapó’ was given to them by outsiders. It means ‘those who look like monkeys,’ probably from the traditional ceremonial dance in which the men wear monkey masks. I appeal to the Brazilian government to affirm the Kayapó’s rights to their sacred land in Kapôt-Nhinore, and to do everything in its power to protect them.

President Dilma Rousseff has a choice. I urge her to seize this leadership opportunity, to halt PEC215 and the other unconscionable, unconstitutional amendments and changes to law which will threaten indigenous peoples’ rights to their land across Brazil. If these proposals go ahead, hundreds of tribal cultures may disappear and Brazil will lose an irreplaceable part of its heritage.

Occupy the Dam: Brazil’s Indigenous Uprising July 24, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Brazil, Environment, First Nations, Latin America.
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Roger’s note: the author of the article posted below, John Perkins, has written “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man,” his account of his personal involvement in measures to create debt in third world countries in order to gain political leverage over their governments.  These “measures” range from bribes to falsified reports to the probable assassination of the presidents of Panama and Ecuador.  I highly recommend this book: it is available as an Ebook.

Published on Tuesday, July 24, 2012 by YES! Magazine

 

In the Amazonian backcountry, tribes are challenging construction of the world’s third-largest dam—by dismantling it. Here’s what they can teach us about standing up to power.

Indigenous tribesmen stand firm near the Belo Monte Dam. (Photos courtesy of International Rivers)

Last month, hundreds of indigenous demonstrators began dismantling a dam in the heart of Brazil’s rainforest to protest the destruction it will bring to lands they have loved and honored for centuries. The Brazilian government is determined to promote construction of the massive, $14 billion Belo Monte Dam, which will be the world’s third largest when it is completed in 2019. It is being developed by Norte Energia, a consortium of ten of the world’s largest construction, engineering, and mining firms set up specifically for the project.

Hydroelectric energy is anything but “clean” when measured in terms of the excruciating pain it causes individuals, social institutions, and local ecology.

The Belo Monte Dam is the most controversial of dozens of dams planned in the Amazon region and threatens the lives and livelihoods of thousands of Amazonian people, plants, and animals. Situated on the Xingu River, the dam is set to flood roughly 150 square miles of already-stressed rainforest and deprive an estimated 20,000 people of their homes, their incomes, and—for those who succumb to malaria, bilharzia, and other diseases carried by insects and snails that are predicted to breed in the new reservoir—their lives. Moreover, the influx of immigrants will bring massive disruption to the socioeconomic balance of the region. People whose livelihoods have primarily depended on hunting and gathering or farming may suddenly find themselves forced to take jobs as manual laborers, servants, and prostitutes.

History has shown again and again that dams in general wreak havoc in areas where they are built, despite promises to the contrary by developers and governments. Hydroelectric energy is anything but “clean” when measured in terms of the excruciating pain it causes individuals, social institutions, and local ecology. The costs—often hidden—include those associated with the privatization of water; the extinction of plants that might provide cures for cancer, HIV, and other diseases; the silting up of rivers and lakes; and the disruption of migratory patterns for many species of birds.

The indigenous cultures threatened by the Belo Monte Dam, including those of the Xikrin, Juruna, Arara, Parakanã, Kuruaya and Kayapó tribes, are tied to the land: generations have hunted and gathered and cultivated the same areas for centuries. They—as well as local flora and fauna—have suffered disproportionately from the effects of other hydroelectric dams, while rarely gaining any of the potential benefits. Now they are fighting back.

The indigenous people’s occupation of the dam garnered international attention, connecting their situation to other events across the globe.

Indigenous leaders from these groups have asked the Brazilian government to immediately withdraw the installation license for Belo Monte. They demand a halt to work until the government puts into place “effective programs and measures to address the impacts of the dam on local people.” They point out that a promised monetary program to compensate for the negative impacts of the mega-dam has not yet been presented in local villages; also, that a system to ensure small boat navigation in the vicinity of the cofferdams, temporary enclosures built to facilitate the construction process, has not been implemented. Without such a system, many will be isolated from markets, health care facilities, and other services. The cofferdams have already rendered much of the region’s water undrinkable and unsuitable for bathing. Wells promised by the government and Norte Energia have not yet been drilled. The list of grievances goes on and on and is only the latest in a very old story of exploitation of nature and people in the name of “progress.” Far too often, this has meant benefiting only the wealthiest in society and business.

Yet here in the backcountry of Brazil, there is a difference: the makings of a new story. The indigenous people’s occupation of the dam garnered international attention, connecting their situation to other events across the globe—the Arab Spring, democratic revolutions in Latin America, the Occupy Movement, and austerity strikes in Spain and other European nations. Brazil’s indigenous protesters have essentially joined protesters on every continent who are demanding that rights be restored to the people.

Stories take time to evolve. This one—the story of people awakening on a global level to the need to oppose and replace exploitative dreams—is still in its beginning phase. And the first chapter has been powerful, elegant, and bold.

A few years ago I was invited, with a group, to Ladakh, a protectorate of India, to meet with the Dalai Lama. Among a great deal of sage advice he offered was the following: “It is important to pray and meditate for peace, for a more compassionate and better world. But if that is all you do, it is a waste of time. You also must take actions to make that happen. Every single day.”

It is time for each and every one us to follow that advice.

Opposing the Belo Monte Dam project provides an opportunity for you and me to honor those words, and those leading resistance to it can help us understand the importance of looking around—in our neighborhoods as well as globally—to determine what else we can do to change the story.

Click here to view photo essay of the indigenous resistance to the Belo Monte Dam construction.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License

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Amazon Indians Occupy Belo Monte Dam Site in Brazil June 26, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Brazil, Environment, First Nations, Latin America.
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Published on Tuesday, June 26, 2012 by Al-Jazeera

 

by Gabriel Elizondo

An estimated 200 indigenous people from Brazil’s Amazon region have occupied a work area at the Belo Monte dam construction site, at least partially halting work on the controversial mega project on the Xingu river.

Indigenous people protesting the Belo Monte dam project on last week as the Rio+20 conference opened in Brazil. They say the dam will destroy their livelihoods along the Xingu River and have now occupied the construction site in hopes of shutting down the project. (European Press Photo Agency)

The indigenous people are from at least four tribes – the Xikrin, Juruna, Parakana and Araras – and are protesting against what they say is the negative effects of the construction.

 They say the construction runoff is muddying the waters and drying up parts of the river they use to fish.

They are also upset that mitigation projects or compensation promised to the indigenous people by the builders to minimize effects of the construction have been slow to materialize.

The indigenous people have occupied one of work sites of the dam since last Thursday, making it the longest occupation of its kind on the construction site.

Click here to watch a video, shot by the Indian tribes during the opening phase of their occupation of a work site:

The builders have halted work on the part of the dam that is being occupied by the indigenous people, but say work continues unabated in other areas. (The construction site is so big it’s divided up into multiple work sites).

According to a local federal prosecutor, the builders’ judicial request to have the Indians removed by force by police was rejected by a federal judge over the weekend.

The Belo Monte Dam is the most controversial construction project in Brazil. It is scheduled to cost roughly $14bn, and the first turbine is expected to be operational by February 2015.

Click here for an Al Jazeera multimedia presentation on the Belo Monte Dam

When completed, the dam will be the third largest in the world.

The Brazilian government says Belo Monte will provide much needed energy at minimal environmental impact. They also argue that hydroelectric dams are clean energy.

But environmentalists have said for years the social impacts – displacement of thousands of people, mostly indigenous people – not to mention environmental damage, are far worse than any potential benefits.

The dam, which was first proposed in the 1970s, has gone through numerous judicial and environmental injunctions in the past couple years. But with most of the hurdles seemingly passed last year, construction on the dam began in July 2011.

The construction ramped up in January this year.

As for the protest by Indians, nobody knows where this will go from here.

On Thursday a delegation from the capital Brasilia will arrive at the work site to speak directly to the Indians to try to reach a compromise.

In the meantime, hundreds of more indigenous peoples are reportedly in boats making their way to provide support.

In late January, I visited the construction site, and towards the end of the day the builders said we had to move away from the immediate work area. Why, I asked? Because there will be an explosion, we were told. A couple of times a day engineers use dynamite to blast away hard rock to make way for the dozens of bulldozers.

I saw the explosion. It’s powerful symbolism that could easily be interpreted as the builders’ way of saying: The time for debate is over, this project is moving forward.

As we are witnessing now, the indigenous people didn’t get the memo.

With the occupation of the dam work site they too are sending a clear signal:

The final chapter in the fight against this mega dam in the Amazon has yet to be written.

© 2012 Al-Jazeera
 

Court Ruling Backs Ecuadorian Effort to Hold Chevron Accountable for Amazon Pollution September 21, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Ecuador, Environment, Latin America.
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www.democracynow.org, September 21, 2011

A U.S. appeals court has ruled oil giant Chevron cannot escape an $18 billion fine for massive pollution of the Amazon rain forest. Amazonian residents won the damages in an Ecuadorian court earlier this year, and Chevron says it will appeal the decision. It is the latest development in a complex, 18-year legal battle that has gone before judges not just in Ecuador and the United States, but also The Hague. We speak with Atossa Soltani, executive director of Amazon Watch, which has worked closely with the Amazon residents suing Chevron. Atossa Soltani is in New York City this week to draw attention to environmental causes in the Amazon in conjunction with two major gatherings, the Clinton Global Initiative and the United Nations General Assembly.

AMY GOODMAN: The oil giant Chevron has been dealt a setback in its bid to escape responsibility for massive pollution in Ecuador’s rain forest. On Monday, a U.S. appeals court vacated a ruling that allowed Chevron to avoid enforcement of a fine of up to $18 billion. Amazonian residents won the damages in an Ecuadorian court earlier this year. Chevron is appealing the decision in Ecuador, and in March won a U.S. court order blocking the plaintiffs from claiming their damages abroad, including in the United States. Monday’s ruling freezes that judgment until the appeals court is able to weigh in on the case.

It’s the latest development in a complex, 18-year legal battle that’s gone before judges not just in Ecuador and the United States, but also at The Hague. Chevron has also filed counter-suits in the case, accusing the plaintiffs and their attorneys of fraud. In a statement, Chevron said, quote, “[We] remain confident that once the full facts are examined, the fraudulent judgment will be found unenforceable and those who procured it will be required to answer for their misconduct.”

Well, we’re joined right now by Atossa Soltani, executive director of Amazon Watch, which has worked closely with the Amazon residents suing Chevron. Atossa Soltani is in New York this week to draw attention to environmental causes in the Amazon in conjunction with two major gatherings, the Clinton Global Initiative and the United Nations General Assembly.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Atossa.

ATOSSA SOLTANI: Thank you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about this ruling that just came down.

ATOSSA SOLTANI: Well, I think this ruling affirms what we’ve been saying and what the plaintiffs have been saying for a decade, that—for over a decade, that Chevron is guilty of massive environmental contamination in the Ecuadorian Amazon. A decision was handed down in February against Chevron, ruling that Chevron is guilty and ordering the company to pay $18 billion in damages. And what Chevron did is run to find a sympathetic venue—in this case, Judge Kaplan’s court here in New York—that would protect it from justice. And what we saw yesterday was a decision that blocks the injunction against the Amazonian communities and their legal team to be able to enforce this judgment against Chevron.

And I think what it says is that it’s really time—it sends a message. It’s a legal victory. It’s a victory for rule of law. It’s a victory for the communities that are fighting against Chevron for the last two decades, that Chevron needs to stop its abusive PR tactics and deceitful PR and its legal fireworks, and address the health and environmental catastrophe that it created in the Amazon, and pay up. And, of course, this is not yet—you know, it’s not yet ready for—we have one more hurdle to go, which is the appeals court, the appeal—Chevron’s appeal of the decision in the Ecuadorian court. So we’re still waiting for that decision. But really, this is a—you know, wipes off two years of, you know, legal—backhanded legal maneuvering by Chevron in the U.S.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what happened. Chevron bought Texaco, so this is when Texaco was in the rain forest.

ATOSSA SOLTANI: That’s right.

AMY GOODMAN: And explain what actually took place. What areas are we talking about?

ATOSSA SOLTANI: We’re talking about the northern Ecuadorian Amazon, where Texaco arrived in the late ’60s and started drilling for oil in a way that would have been illegal to do in the United States, dumping huge amounts of production waters and drilling waste and causing a significant area—18 billion gallons of toxic waste and over 20 million gallons of crude waste that was spilled in this area. Some 30,000 people live here, including five indigenous tribes, who have been systematically poisoned over the last 30 years. And there is a public health crisis. There’s epidemics of cancer, birth defects, all kinds of health problems related to the oil pollution. People here don’t have drinking water, so every day they’re drinking the water from the rivers and streams and poisoning themselves in the process.

So, the case was brought initially in the New York courts against Chevron. And for nearly a decade, Chevron argued that this case should be heard in Ecuador. And then it went to Ecuador. Once Chevron bought Texaco, it assumed the liabilities. The case was taken to Ecuador, and that’s where it’s been for the—since 2003. So now it’s ironic that after nearly, you know, a decade of arguing the case should be heard in Ecuador, Chevron is back in the New York courts looking for a sympathetic judge to block enforcement. It’s lost the first round of this historic trial. And we believe that Chevron needs to, you know, stop its tactics of trying to allege fraud, and address the real health crises that are facing the communities in the region.

AMY GOODMAN: During arguments on Friday, U.S. Circuit Judge Gerard Lynch asked a Chevron lawyer, quote, “Are you saying that a New York court is in charge of deciding that we will not tolerate a South African judgment, procured by fraud, and enforced in Russia?” What does that mean?

ATOSSA SOLTANI: Well, basically, you know, Judge Kaplan was giving a global injunction to prevent lawyers for the communities in the Amazon to enforce this decision that the Ecuadorian judge made against Chevron. So it’s basically legal imperialism, preventing—basically saying that a U.S. district court could—you know, a U.S. district court could prevent a sovereign court in another country from finding an American company guilty of crimes. And that is legal imperialism, and I think that’s what the district court—the court of appeals found yesterday.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to Brazil. You’re here at the United Nations. What is happening in Brazil? Talk about your work there?

ATOSSA SOLTANI: Well, two-thirds of the Amazon rain forest is in Brazil. And currently, there’s a triple threat in Brazil coming initially from the Belo Monte Dam, which would be the third-largest dam in the world, planned for the Xingu River. You have also a big debate happening in the Brazilian congress over the forestry code, which rules how much a landowner can clear of its forests, under law. And there’s a backsliding. There’s a proposed law that would, you know, rule back the forest code. And then you have a rise, a significant rise, in murders and death threats against activists. So this is a triple threat. It is a critical moment for the Amazon. And the Amazon is important to the entire planet. It is really the engine of the global weather system. It’s the rain machine for the planet. And we cannot afford to lose the Amazon at the rate that it’s going. We’re approaching the tipping point of ecological collapse.

So you have President Dilma Rousseff, who’s the first woman president of Brazil. She’s actually opening up the General Assembly here tomorrow for the first time a woman head of state has done that. And under her, you know, current administration, we’re seeing a significant rise in deforestation rates, in crimes against activists. And now, with the—in June, the license for the Belo Monte Dam was issued, and this is causing significant environmental damage. This dam would be—would destroy 60 miles of the Xingu River. It would displace some 40,000 people. The bulldozers have started to arrive in the city of Altamira. There is chaos ensuing. People are being displaced from their land without compensation or even consent. Their homes are being destroyed. Actually, just recently, there have been people whose houses have been burned by the police. And you have a situation of significant conflict in an area that already has the highest deforestation rate, and crime is up. You know, there’s literally chaos ensuing in the cities and the towns around this dam. And there are many promises the government made that this dam—the environmental impacts of this dam would be addressed, that haven’t been met, and those promises haven’t been met. So, just yesterday, the municipality of Altamira called on the Dilma government to suspend this dam project. And this is a municipality that was previously in favor of the dam. So what we have is, you know, we have a crisis. We have—in this area, which is Pará, the state of Pará, you also have the heightened—where the activists were murdered a few months ago. Six people have already been murdered in recent months.

AMY GOODMAN: Atossa, I wanted to break in, because we’ve just gotten this breaking news from Georgia. Clemency has been denied for Troy Davis. The Board of Pardons and Parole has denied clemency, which means, unless anything changes, he will be executed on September 21st—that’s Wednesday night—7:00 Eastern Standard Time in Jackson, Georgia. Again, clemency has been denied for Troy Anthony Davis.

We’re going to wrap the show right now. I want to thank you very much, Atossa Soltani, for joining us. Latest news out of Brazil is that Brazilian authorities have arrested two brothers in connection with the murders of two Amazon environmental activists, José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva and his wife, Maria do Espírito Santo. He predicted he would be killed when he went back to Brazil. He said, “I will protect the forest at all costs. That is why I could get a bullet in my head at any moment.” Those are the words of José, who was executed.

That does it for our broadcast. Again, the latest news in this country, Troy Anthony Davis’s appeal for clemency has been denied. He is set to be executed September 21st, Wednesday, at 7:00 p.m. in Georgia.

Will Dams on Amazon Tributary Wreak Global Havoc? April 5, 2009

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by Tyler Bridges

VOLTA GRANDE, Brazil – The Xingu River, the largest tributary of the Amazon, runs wide and swift this time of year. Its turquoise waters are home to some 600 species of fish, including several not found anywhere else on the planet. A thick emerald canopy of trees hugs its banks, except in places where man has carved out pastures for cattle.

 

[In this photo released by Spectral Agency, more than a thousand indigenous from around the world create a human banner that reads in Portuguese 'Save the Amazon' and a silhouette of an indigenous warrior during a demonstration marking the beginning of the World Social Forum, in Belem, Brazil, Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2009. (AP Photo/ Spectral Agency, Lou Dematteis)]In this photo released by Spectral Agency, more than a thousand indigenous from around the world create a human banner that reads in Portuguese ‘Save the Amazon’ and a silhouette of an indigenous warrior during a demonstration marking the beginning of the World Social Forum, in Belem, Brazil, Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2009. (AP Photo/ Spectral Agency, Lou Dematteis)

Now man, in the form of the Brazilian state power company, wants to harness a section of the Xingu by building the world’s third-biggest dam. 

Called the Belo Monte, the dam would drown 200 square miles of tropical rainforest – an area equivalent to the sprawling city of Tucson, Ariz. – and would flood the homes of 19,000 people. It would be only one of more than a dozen dams that the Brazilian government is planning to construct on tributaries of the Amazon, the world’s mightiest river.

Belo Monte would be only the latest assault on the Amazon tropical rainforest, which is home to one in 10 of the world’s known species and covers an area as large as the United States west of the Mississippi River.

Stephan Schwartzman, the director of tropical forest policy at the Environmental Defense Fund, said that 18 percent of the Amazon, an area nearly two times the size of California, had been cleared since the mid-1960s.

He added that deforestation peaked in 2004 and has since declined because of falling beef and soybean prices and because the government has stepped up enforcement of protected areas.

What happens to the Amazon rainforest has wide consequences, because a shrinking rainforest hampers the planet’s ability to rid the atmosphere of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that trees and other green plants absorb.

Brazilian government officials, however, say that Belo Monte and the other dams are necessary to switch on more living room lights, power expanding companies in the world’s ninth largest economy and create jobs as Brazil begins to slide into recession.

The impact of Belo Monte on the Indians who’d be displaced is central to the dam’s opponents. Under Brazil’s Constitution, Indians must “be heard” when dams would affect their land, which potentially gives them veto power over new dams.

Environmentalists are organizing riverside dwellers to rise up against Belo Monte by describing how it would submerge their homes and land. They organized a meeting March 21 in the community that locals call Volta Grande, which in Portuguese refers to a curve in the Xingu known as the Big Bend.

It took place in a barnlike house on the banks of the Xingu, about an hour downriver by motorboat from Altamira, the closest city.

Euclides de Oliveira listened quietly in a portion of the home that had been converted into a makeshift classroom with a dirt floor.

De Oliveira, a wiry 32-year-old fisherman with a dark mustache, sat on a bench with his back to a wall on which schoolwork covered the wooden planks. He wore a T-shirt and flip-flops, like most everyone else there.

The heat was stifling, and everyone swatted at the mosquitoes as activists described an unhappy future.

“What you say makes me afraid,” de Oliveira said when he finally spoke up. “It will end our way of life.”

Environmentalists emphasize the bigger picture, that Belo Monte would increase global greenhouse gases by devastating the rainforest and by releasing the methane gas stored in river vegetation. They add that the Xingu’s low level during the dry season would force the government to build five more dams to regulate the water flow.

Some critics even say that dams such as Belo Monte could become white elephants if global warming dries up parts of the Amazon, as some computer models suggest.

Instead of building dams, a World Wildlife Fund-Brazil analysis found, the government could meet the country’s energy needs by upgrading existing energy systems and pushing for the rapid development of wind, solar and biomass. In one example, the study reported that Brazil loses 16 percent of the power it generates through an old and faulty distribution system, compared with an international rate of about 6 percent.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has won plaudits worldwide for his role in pushing for Brazilian cars to switch from gasoline to cleaner ethanol produced from sugarcane.

However, Lula has continued to champion big energy projects that create jobs, devastate the rainforest and produce campaign contributions to his Workers Party from big construction companies.

He also has said pointedly: “The Amazon belongs to Brazilians.”

Lula provided crucial support for two controversial dams that are under construction on the Madeira River, in the western Amazon.

Belo Monte would be built in the heart of Para, a state that’s home to an explosive mix of poor settlers, cattle ranchers, loggers and scammers who fake land titles.

The latter are known as “grileiros.” They draw up backdated land deeds and put them in a drawer full of crickets, “grilos” in Portuguese. The crickets secrete acids that yellow the deeds and allow the scammers to pass them off as years older.

In 2005, a gunman in Para hired by a wealthy rancher shot and killed Dorothy Stang, an American nun who’d fought the powerful on behalf of the landless.

A sign of the tension over Belo Monte came at a public meeting in Altamira last May.

There, Indians in feathers and war paint clubbed and slashed an electric company executive. After the bloody executive was led away, the Indians danced in celebration, waving their machetes.

“It was a shocking and regrettable act,” said Glenn Switkes, the Brazil-based representative of International Rivers, a California-based nonprofit group. “But it defines what’s at stake and shows that the determination and resistance by indigenous people is likely to be strong.”

Bishop Erwin Kraulter has 24-hour police protection because of death threats for opposing the dam and butting heads with the powerful ranchers association.

“The dam will have an irreversible impact,” Kraulter said in his residence in Altamira.

He has some hope that the government won’t advance the dam after he met with Lula on March 19 and got the president to agree to meet with opponents in late April.

Business and political leaders in Altamira support Belo Monte because of the development it will bring.

“With the dam, we’d have more income to improve infrastructure,” said Altamira’s mayor, Odileida Sampaio. She hopes that the dam will produce money to pave 600 miles of the Transamazon highway and connect Altamira to the city of Maraba to the east.

Altamira’s streets were paved only five years ago. Its population has doubled in the past 20 years to 62,000, but it retains a small-town feel. It has two stoplights, and all its telephone numbers have the same prefix.

Sampaio and others in Altamira fear that the expected influx of job seekers would overwhelm the city’s ability to handle them.

“The population of Altamira will double in three or four years,” said Silverio Fernandez, Altamira’s deputy mayor.

Sampaio said the company that wins the project to build the dam must pay for new roads, schools, health clinics and houses.

She said she’d heard that an avalanche of unemployed workers flooded Tucurui when a massive dam was built on the Tocantins River, east of Altamira, during the 1970s.

The debate over whether to build dams in the Amazon isn’t new. Opponents stopped one massive dam planned for the Amazon in 1989.

It was an earlier version of Belo Monte. A coalition of U.S.-based environmentalists, Brazil’s Kayapo Indians and the star wattage of Sting, who shone an international spotlight, prompted the World Bank to withdraw needed loans.

Jose Antonio Muniz remembers that episode.

Now the president of Eletrobras, the gigantic state power company, Muniz showed a 1989 magazine article to a visitor to his Rio de Janeiro office. The article featured a photo of a Kayapo Indian placing a hunting knife against Muniz’s left cheek in Altamira. It was a friendly warning not to mess with the indigenous people.

Belo Monte now is a kinder and gentler dam, Muniz said.

“It’s the best site in the world for a dam,” he said during an hour-long interview. “It will produce a lot of energy and have a minimal impact on people and the environment.”

Eletrobras submitted its environmental impact statement on Feb. 27 to Brazil’s environmental agency. It has yet to be made public.

Muniz said he expected to win approval to let construction bids in October and begin work on Belo Monte next year. The dam would cost $10 billion and wouldn’t open until 2014 at the earliest.

Muniz said the government had learned from its mistakes and was taking many steps to protect the environment and minimize the impact on indigenous peoples. He promised to compensate those affected, even those without land titles.

“Brazil needs dams if it wants to become a developed country,” Muniz said. “It is a clean form of energy.”

Opponents, who’ve already won several court orders halting the project temporarily, hope that the courts will reject it because of the damage it will do to indigenous people and the rainforest.

At the meeting March 21, about 70 people gathered at one of the riverside dwellings in Volta Grande. It was the home of Fernando Florencio de Sousa, who grows cacao, coffee, rice, corn and yucca on 600 acres that abut the Xingu River.

Officials from the electric company have visited the area four or five times.

“They promise us that we’ll have a much better life,” de Sousa said, “that we’ll have electricity, running water and live in a nice house. I don’t believe it.”

Antonia Melo, an activist for a nonprofit group called Xingu Lives, which organized the meeting, showed an hour-long documentary on the destruction and failed promises of the Tucurui and Madeira River dams. Afterward, she and Ignez Wenzel, a nun from Altamira, taught the group a chant against Belo Monte.

A stout man in a red baseball cap named Liro Moraes, who’d been silent for most of the meeting, recalled a recent meeting with electric company officials.

“They only talk about the good things,” said Moraes, 51, his voice rising. “We shouldn’t let them into our communities anymore!”

Everyone burst into applause and began chanting, “Down with Belo Monte.”