Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Belo Monte and Xingu - Brazilian contradictions

by Magda Pucci

In February the president of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, approved the construction of the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant in Xingu River that will flood 18,000 kilometers and reach 12 indigenous lands. Dilma (as the Brazilians call her) made Raoni, chief of the Kayapo people, cry as he was trying to stop this big project since 1989. 

This article is a follow up on Belo Monte and Xingu - Brazilian contradictions on News and Noise.

Many environment activists are filing numerous lawsuits to halt the construction claiming that it will cause irreparable damage to local Indigenous communities and to the environment, but Dilma seems not to want to stop this ambitious project. In an interview, she said that people who are against hydroelectric are ‘living in a fantasy’. Dilma Rousseff about the hydroelectric plant:

  "We have the most difficult task that is to propose a new paradigm of growth that does not seem unrealistic. No one will accept in a conference, I apologize, discuss fantasy. It has no room for fantasy. I'm not talking about utopia; I'm talking about fantasy […]"

 Dilma cited an example of a time she was in Spain and there was no wind energy production due to the lack of wind.

 “To ensure basic energy it must be the renewable hydropower. Wind power is not good because it if there is no wind, there is no electricity. It is not windy all the time and there's no way to store wind. Wind cannot be stocked

Dilma is so embedded with Brazilian economic success that her biggest goal is to increase the profits of this situation. The government says that the goal of Belo Monte hydroelectric is to produce electricity of 11.233 MW; in reality it is likely to produce around 4.000 MW (39,5 TWh per year) per year, which means approximately 10% of the national consume (388 TWh in 2009). (Source: Ministério de Minas e Energia).

 The government is proud of Belo Monte because it will be the biggest hydroelectric plant in Brazil and the third biggest in the world following the Chinese ‘The Three Gorges Dam’ (20.300 MW) and the Brazilian-Paraguayan Itaipu (14.000 MW).

But there is an important detail that is inexplicably ignored: the Chinese Government admitted that Three Gorges was disastrous, not only because of the relocation of over 1,500,000 people who were displaced by the rising waters but for frequent landslides and the significant adverse effects of increased pollution upon the regional ecosystem. Chinese cabinet, the state council, admitted that several problems had not been foreseen:

"Problems emerged at various stages of project planning and construction but could not be solved immediately, and some arose because of increased demands brought on by economic and social development."

 So, just taking a look briefly over the problems caused by Three Gorges Dam, Dilma should reflect better on the Belo Monte plant, a project that began in 1975 (during Brazilian dictatorship) and after many back and forth, was finally auctioned in a consortium for ‘Norte Energia’ company in February 2012. This back and forth had a reason: the ambientalists did not approve the way things were being done and many changes were done for more than almost 30 years but still they are problems.

In his blog, Fernando Meirelles said that if Dilma Roussef was president in the 1950's, Parque Xingu would never exist. In a scene from the Xingu film, while defending the construction of the Transamazonica railway that would pass in the middle of an indigenous village, a militar tells to Orlando Villas Boas: - Orlando, take the Indians out there. Progress is good for everyone. - No, it is not. - answered the Orlando -I can not even know if it's good for us.

Not only Meirelles and Hamburger are worried about Belo Monte. Sting had done, in 1989 a manifest against, and recently, the  filmmaker James Cameron  implored to president Lula to stop the project when he went to Amazonas to participate into an Environmental Conference. Avatar, his last film, showed how the humans arbitrarily exploit the natural resources of the planet (Pandora) to its depletion. The metaphor is interesting. (BR Press)

Also, the indigenous peoples are doing many protests against Belo Monte. Dilma Rousseff and her staff will not be swayed. They complain that they were not consulted about the project. Gathering of more than 300 indigenous leaders from 18 different ethnic groups of the Xingu Basin with leaders of the Movement Xingu Forever Alive in the village Piaraçu (MT) to discuss the impacts that the construction of Belo Monte poses to their livelihoods. The government assured them that they won't be affected.

Some ONGs like Xingu Vivo arguments that the environmental impact studies were not appropriately done. In 1989, an indigenous woman called Tuira did a violent protest: she touched the blade of his machete in the face of the president of Eletronorte that was discoursing about the construction of Kararaô (first name of the Belo Monte Plant). The scene was reproduced in many newspapers and became historical.

To make things worse, the Minister Mines and Energy, Lobão (his name means big wolf) said in an interview that “demoniac forces prevent the hydroelectric plants” (Folha) causing revolt on indigenous peoples that felt outraged. Lobão statement shows a complete ignorance about the effects of such a big project. Lobão does not know the indigenous way of life, he thinks that a river is just like a swimming pool, you can change the place whatever you want.

Contrary to that, many indigenous leaders did a meeting and filmed their complaints in order to show their worries about the construction of Belo Monte and the problem with the fishes as the Xingu river will have is course changed. The video shows how angry they are. 

The basic complain was synthesized by Kayapó woman´s speech: “We need the forest to survive”. Another important indigenous leader, Megaron, said that “ people do not understand about our way of life. We depend on the river, on the forest, on the land to survive. Without it, we will die”.

An Altamira shop seller said : it won´t be development, it will be only destruction". Like Mr. Lobão, who did not show a minimum of respect for the social movements and peoples of the Xingu River Basin, the Brazilian politicians are too ambitious to stop it. They believe that indigenous people is a hindrance to the development situation. There are many economical interests involved on this kind of project like an overbilling of this mega construction (from R$ 4,5 to 25 billions!).

The political interests blur the situation, stimulating that old dispute between PT and ‘tucanos’ (FHC) and do not advance the quality of the discussion. And there is ‘Blackout Syndrome’ that makes people feel panic over the possibility of having to come back to the light of candles due to a power blackout.

Professor Célio Bermann, who worked with Dilma when she was at Minister of Mines and Energy), affirmed that this panic ‘leads to legitimate ventures absolutely inconsistent’. “The fact is that the global warming now is dominating the media and the common sense which helps to show the hydroelectricity as a great wonder, regardless of where the dam will be built and the impacts that will cause”.

Like Meirelles, Bermann pointed out the urgency on getting this energy for the aluminum, cellulose and steel industries for exportation and not for the population itself.

"I think that it is absolutely undesirable for aluminum production to double over the next 10 years, steel production triple in the next 10 years, the production of cellulose increase threefold in the next 10 years. And this is the Brazilian goal officially". (Revista Epoca) - Bermann said.

The government refuted. Bermann statement and sent an official note Época Magazine telling that Brazil

“needs to double over the next 12 years, installed capacity of electricity generation, which today is 112 megawatts” (Revista Epoca)

Controversies aside, there is a point that can never be forgotten: the respect for the human rights. The local people that will be affected by the Monte Belo should have been consulted, indeed. The American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States (OAS) asked for the immediate suspension of Belo Monte licensing process due to the absolute lack of respect beginning a project like this without consulting the local population.

Erwin Kräutler, an Austrian bishop that has been working for decades in Xingu region, has been always defending the Indigenous peoples. He suffered an attack that nearly killed him. But he never quits. Dom Erwin wrote a text complaining about the Belo Monte´s truthful human and ecological tragedy. He says that authorities did not inform the population about what will really happen there and they deny and even distort the facts.

Frei Boff, an important monk of the Catholic progressive church, published in his blog a Kräutler testimony about the effects in Altamira city caused by the increasing immigration (around 20,000 persons). (Leonardo Boff). “The truth is a steamroller that is passing over us. The promise that Lula personally gave me on July 22th of 2009, holding my arm and saying "I will not push this project down the throats of anyone" was pure lie. He spoke like that to "calm" the bishop and get rid of this nuisance religious. The government pushes Belo Monte down our throats!” According to Don Erwin:

"the people of North Energy is highly arrogant. If the settler did not vacate his place, they ask for a court eviction order and send the police over the poor, because the North Energy considers the region its property and the residents who live there since the days, the great-invaders".

Altamira is enduring lots of problems as Don Erwin relates:

“Altamira was in a complete chaos. Nothing that was promised was done like basic sanitation, one of the conditions of IBAMA to give license to begin the work! There are no beds in hospitals, there is no place for schools, the homicides are increasing each day and there is huge prostitution downtown. The rents for a simple house jumped from 300 to 2.000 dollars. Food prices have tripled. The traffic is a disaster. Accidents happen all the time". […] “And the government said loudly that no village will be flooded. Villages will be flooded, yes! What North Energy is doing is cutting off the water to the Indigenous peoples and to the bordering peoples (ribeirinhos) from Grande Volta do Xingu place. And these people lives and survives on fishing. And there's more. What will happen to a village that is just a few miles close to Belo Monte construction place where thousands of men are working? It is very sad. It is a pity!” 

 Those problems that Erwin describe are being shown on many TV reports like TV Globo (the most important Brazilian channel) that produced a series of reports about Belo Monte.

But none of this, seems to sensitize the Brazilian politicians. The growth process cannot stop whatever the human costs are. Listening to the Don Erwin bishop words make us believe that the ‘infamous progress’ will no longer arrive in Altamira and others cities close to Xingu. People who live there will suffer a lot to ‘give the energy to the steel and aluminum industries located in the south of the country while the local population will grieve and keep going poor and without infra-structure’.

It is an unequal situation. Belo Monte won´t be a big disaster. It is already a big disaster. But ‘people seem to live in a fantasy’, as Dilma said. So, they don't care about the environment or the people, 'we need progress'. Brazilian people had heard this during the seventies dictatorship government…

Written by Magda Pucci, who is currently writing her PdD in Ethnomusicology. She is the producer and artistic leader of the Brazilian music group Mawaca. 
More about the subject in the Jornal Nacional:

Jornal Nacional (Globo TV) reports

Movimento Gota D'água (TV celebrities video) - with English subtitles

Pare Belo Monte!

Debate Usina Belo Monte - 1 de 2 - Globo News (financial aspects)

No comments:

Post a Comment