Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon

by Asociacion Interamericana Para La Defensa Del Ambiente (AIDA)
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Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon

This year AIDA has been supporting indigenous and riverine communities affected by the Belo Monte dam in Brazil facing the impacts of COVID-19. These communities have been particularly vulnerable to the ongoing pandemic and we have worked to expose their situation.

From the moment the pandemic reached Brazil, we have been compiling and disseminating information about the differentiated impact COVID-19 has on the indigenous peoples of the Xingu region. We created and sent various international alerts about the situation of the communities, which the governments have failed to address and which continues to threaten their right to health and integrity.

The communities affected by Belo Monte, due to the impacts of the construction of the dam, have become dependent on external support to have access to food, water and income sources. In the face of the pandemic, the necessary isolation to protect indigenous health became an obstacle to meeting their basic needs. In addition, the current state of dismantling of indigenous institutions in Brazil and the national government's policy did not allow for the development and implementation of a plan to protect the health of indigenous people, a much needed plan that would guarantee them adequate care and that would protect them from agents that transmit the virus.

AIDA exposed before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, how the mining activities, deforestation, and invasion of indigenous lands, together with the anti-environmental policy of the Brazilian government, became the channels of transmission of the COVID-19 for indigenous peoples in the region, and that continues to be a threat to their lives.

Note: you can find the alert (in Spanish) sent to the IACHR in this link -- https://aida-americas.org/es/recurso/alerta-a-la-cidh-sobre-la-situacion-de-pueblos-indigenas-de-brasil-ante-el-covid-19

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Maira Irigaray - Amazon Watch
Maira Irigaray - Amazon Watch

Today I want to share great news on our work representing communities affected by Belo Monte:

On May 13, the Norwegian oil fund, managed by the public bank Norges Bank Investment Management and considered the world's largest sovereign wealth fund, excluded twelve companies from its investment portfolio for ethical reasons, including Brazil's Eletrobras for its participation in the Belo Monte hydroelectric project. 

The fund follows the recommendations made each year by the Council on Ethics to ensure that investments meet certain criteria. In this case the Council’s recommendation was due to the participation of the Brazilian state-owned company in the project, which is associated with serious human rights violations against indigenous peoples.

AIDA - as part of a joint civil society effort - informed the Council of the situation of the indigenous and riverine populations affected by the project, its social and environmental impacts, the operational situation of the dam, and the current status of national and international legal actions brought against the project.

The Council noted that the Belo Monte project, run by the Norte Energia consortium - of which Eletrobras is a part - caused "greater pressure on indigenous lands, the disintegration of the social structures of indigenous peoples and the deterioration of their ways of life" with the forced displacement of some 20,000 people.

We believe the Council's decision should be applauded because it discourages the continuation of unsustainable and ill-named development projects that threaten the survival of indigenous and traditional peoples, as is the case with Belo Monte.

It is essential that banks, international financial institutions and monetary funds take into account the likely impacts of the projects they finance. Supporting socially and environmentally sustainable projects instead of initiatives that prioritize economic benefit over the protection of human rights and the environment demonstrates responsible and ethical investment.

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Riverine Community -Altamira
Riverine Community -Altamira

Early this month Marcella (AIDA fellow attorney) and I traveled to Altamira, the area most affected by the Belo Monte dam. We were there to attend the annual strategy meeting of the Movimento Xingu Vivo para Sempre, group of local communities we support in this case, where local leaders gather to evaluate the challenges presented during the year and plan coordinated strategies to confront them. During our visit we also met with our regional partners.

During the meeting we made a presentation on lessons learnt from the Belo Monte case in preparation for Belo Sun (mining project, which seeks to mine indigenous lands already impacted by the construction of the Belo Monte dam), showing the importance of documenting impact information. We also presented tools on protecting environmental defenders.

Making the most of our visit we also conducted interviews and monitored the current situation of Altamira and the communities affected by Belo Monte, and now also by Belo Sun. We met with several environmental defenders and social organizations and documented the situation in the region. In addition to the impacts of both projects, there is growing concern about the threat of land invaders and deforestation of the Amazon.

As part of our visit we held a meeting with our local partner ISA, which reported on the current status of the Belo Sun project. The new construction project already has an approved Environmental Impact Assessment, and is only on hold due to legal actions by the Public Prosecutor's Office, but this will not last long. There is concern about the situation of local indigenous communities because publicly, they are recognized as the ones who "have the project stopped" and that is a high risk factor.

Along with our partners we are coordinating next steps focusing on a report on how Belo Sun will affect Human Rights of the communities already affected by Belo Monte. We will present a projection of the possible impacts of the mining project and evaluate, with scientific support, the existing Impact Assessment.

We are also planning to bring the attention of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to the case and the Human Rights violations derived from Belo Sun. The Indigenous communities fighting to defend their land and their rights are and will always be at the center of our work and their protection our priority.

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Belo Monte. Photo courtesy of Antonia Melo.
Belo Monte. Photo courtesy of Antonia Melo.

AIDA and partner organizations requested a hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights where civil society organizations demonstrated how measures adopted by the administration of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro are undoing decades of human rights protections in the country in an effort to halt further rollbacks, and to demand a reversal of the government’s actions that are currently threatening indigenous communities.

Last May, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) heard how measures adopted by the government of President Jair Bolsonaro have rolled back protections for human rights in the country, creating a dangerous situation for indigenous communities and violating Brazil’s international obligations to protect human rights.

The hearing formed part of the Commission’s 172 Period of Sessions, which toke place in Kingston, Jamaica.

During the hearing, we detailed how reforms made by the Bolsonaro government in matters of law, public policy, foreign policy, and other areas, violate the preservation of indigenous communities’ way of life in the country. The case also shows how those reforms violate communities’ rights to life, culture, food, a healthy environment, clean water, and the delimitation of their ancestral homelands, among others.

The government has diminished legal and administrative protections for indigenous communities through the following actions:

  • The transfer of key functions from the Ministry of Environment to the Ministry of Agriculture.
  • Increased precarity for employees at the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources.
  • Weakening of the Chico Mendes Institute for the Conservation of Biodiversity and of the process for granting environmental permits.
  • The threat of exposing indigenous lands to the dangers of mining.
  • Measures adopted by the Ministry of Environment that fragment the legal order that guarantees minimum conditions for the protection of the environment and indigenous rights.
  • The transfer of authority for the demarcation of indigenous lands from the National Indian Foundation to the Ministry of Agriculture.
  • The threat of withdrawing Brazil from international treaties like the Paris Agreement and others valuable agreements to protect the environment and human rights.

In addition to these rollbacks, we asserted that the situation has been aggravated by increased deforestation, encroachment on indigenous lands, and violence against environmental and human rights defenders.

At AIDA we continue to support the local organizations defending their lands and their rights, and by presenting their cases at the Commission’s hearings allows us to bring international attention to the issues.

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For more than month, the Amazon has been ravaged by a large number of fires in Brazil and neighboring countries. This unprecedented number of fires aggravates the climate crisis and, with it, the threat of increasingly harmful natural disasters.

As a response, AIDA has called for the governments of the Amazon basin to adopt urgent measures to stop the fires. AIDA’s Brazilian attorney, Marcella Torres, participated on a televised panel to discuss the impacts of the fires and to raise awareness of the situation. In addition, we called on citizens and the international community to pressure the governments of Brazil and the other countries of the region to reverse course and effectively protect the Amazon, its biodiversity, and the people who depend on it.

The consequences of these fires are particularly devastating for the biodiversity of the area and for the communities that inhabit it, making this a situation that requires increasingly urgent and effective actions.

The Amazon holds 20% of the Earth's unfrozen fresh water and is home to a quarter of the world's species. In addition, the Amazon jungle releases about 20% of the oxygen we breathe and stores 90 to 140 billion tons of carbon dioxide, regulating the global climate. The international scientific community has emphatically pointed out that the destruction of tropical forests causes 20% of greenhouse gas emissions.

For this reason, the Amazon ecosystem is vital for mitigating the climate crisis. The current fires demonstrate that the Amazon is now more vulnerable than before due to a combination of factors, including increased droughts, deforestation, unsustainable use of soil and subsoil, and development projects.

The Belo Monte Dam is one of the projects making the rainforest more vulnerable. That’s why we’ve worked relentlessly to support the indigenous communities fighting against it. As one of the biggest development projects in the Amazon, it’s impacts and the importance of our fight is now more relevant than ever.

Scientific evidence demonstrates that hydropower projects are a significant source of greenhouse gases—CO2 and, particularly, methane—and they have a significant role in aggravating climate change.

The policies, rhetoric and actions of Jair Bolsonaro's government have the same impact, actively dismantling due protection of the Amazon and its indigenous peoples. His administration intensified recent attempts to undermine Brazil’s progressive legislation on environmental protection and human rights - especially those of indigenous peoples, quilombolas (descendants of African slaves), family farmers and other traditional populations. They irresponsibly promote the expansion of the agricultural, livestock and extractive frontier in the Amazon, resulting in increased deforestation and the consequences we are witnessing today.

Because of this, we have publically demanded that our region’s governments take concrete actions to:

  • Strengthen institutions and environmental norms,
  • Immediately suspend rhetoric that encourages deforestation and the destruction of the Amazon,
  • Stop the indiscriminate expansion of the agricultural, livestock and extractive frontier in the area,
  • Adopt proper land use and planning,
  • Ensure the existence and restoration of ecosystem life cycles, and
  • Control deforestation and conserve the Amazon with the financial and technical support of multilateral international cooperation.

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Organization Information

Asociacion Interamericana Para La Defensa Del Ambiente (AIDA)

Location: San Francisco, CA - USA
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @AIDAorg
Project Leader:
Astrid Puentes
Lima, Brazil
$19,519 raised of $20,000 goal
 
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