24 May 2008

Brazil all set to flood the rainforest

By Alan Clendenning in Altamira
The Scotsman - 23 May 2008
Original URL

INDIANS fish from canoes along the Xingu river and tend crops near the site of a proposed dam talked about for decades – but now pushing forward under Brazil's multi-billion-pound construction spree.

The Belo Monte dam will swallow swathes of rainforest and harm rare fish, as well as the livelihoods and homes of about 15,000 people who live in the remote area of north-eastern Para state, critics say. Flush with cash from its roaring economy, Brazil is spending £150 billion in the next two years alone on hydroelectric dams, roads and other infrastructure to expand industry, boost exports, create jobs and help to speed the emergence of Latin America's largest country as a world economic power.

But at a time when the world is focused on climate change and Amazon rainforest destruction, Brazil's boom means paving, flooding and stringing power lines through thousands of miles of pristine jungle.

Edivaldo Juruna, a subsistence farmer and fisherman who lives in a ramshackle wooden house on a sandbar, worries when he hears that the dam will flood 170sq miles of Amazon basin and turn a 90-mile stretch of the river into stagnant puddles.

"Up there near the city it's going to flood, but down here it's going to dry up," said Mr Juruna, an Indian whose last name is the same as his tribe. "Everyone's talking about the jobs that will come and that there will be energy for Brazil. But no-one's talking about the bad side."

Tensions are growing. Some 1,000 Indians gathered in nearby Altamira this week to fight the proposed £3.4 billion dam, planned as the world's third-largest power producer behind China's Three Gorges and Itaipu on the border between Brazil and Paraguay.

Indians and environmentalists thought they had beaten the dam in 1989, when a similar protest drew the rock star Sting and international condemnation. But now Brazil has the money for such projects without needing outside help, and the dam is scheduled to go out to tender next year.

Critics say pro-development forces in the government of the president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, have taken control – the reason cited for the resignation last week of the famed Amazon preservationist Marina Silva as Brazil's environment minister.

The president argues that the mega-projects are needed to create jobs in desperately poor regions and to share the new wealth. Half of all Brazilians get by on £250 a month or less. "We shouldn't think of the Amazon as a sanctuary," he said in a speech earlier this month.

The Belo Monte dam is projected to produce 6.3 per cent of Brazil's electricity by 2014. It also will flood areas in and around Altamira, where the only paved roads turn to dirt a dozen miles out of town.

Thousands of people live in simple homes on stilts that flood during the six-month rainy season, but could be totally inundated after the dam is built.
Diane Fereira Barbosa came to Altamira with her husband and two children after being forced off their farm by pistoleiros, hired guns, for local ranchers and land-grabbers.

"If the dam comes, we'll just suffer more," she said. "We don't have anywhere to go."

The government promises extensive studies to reduce adverse impacts from the dam. Marcio Zimmerman, the executive secretary of Brazil's mines and energy ministry, said Belo Monte would increase employment in the historically poor state.

But critics warn the Amazon projects will bring waves of immigration into areas where the government has little oversight, allowing loggers, ranchers, farmers and other jungle entrepreneurs to cut down forest with little fear of retribution.

Roberto Smeraldi, the director of Friends of the Earth Brazil, said: "Any mega-intervention brings a huge number of people in an area where you have no rules of the game. There's no justice, no police, no health assistance, no schools, no whatever."

Violence flares in protests

OBJECTIONS to the dam project have seen violence flare.

On Tuesday, Paulo Fernando Rezende, an official with Eletrobras, Brazil's national electric company, gave a presentation to a gathering debating the impact of the Belo Monte dam on traditional communities living near Altamira. But a mob of Indians from different tribes surrounded Mr Rezend minutes into his speech.
Mr Rezende emerged shirtless from the assault, with a deep gash on his shoulder, but said: "I'm OK, I'm OK," as colleagues rushed him to a car.

"He's lucky he's still alive," said Indian activist Partyk Kayapo. "They want to make a dam and now they know they shouldn't."

Following the attack, Mr Kayapo and dozens more members of his tribe danced in celebration with their machetes raised.

Mr Rezende was booed during his presentation, only to be followed by Roquivam Alves da Silva, of the Movement of Dam Affected People, who roused the crowd by declaring: "We'll go to war to defend the Xingu if we have to."

All rights reserved ©2008

Read more... Sphere: Related Content

No comments: