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
Antonia Melo by Maira Irigaray / Amazon Watch.
Antonia Melo by Maira Irigaray / Amazon Watch.

Each time we return to the Brazilian Amazon, we listen to more stories of the tragedies caused by the Belo Monte Dam.

We meet new groups of people whose lives and livelihoods have been forever changed by the corruption-laden mega-dam towering over their backyards. 

Over the years we’ve documented the stories of indigenous people who were displaced from ancestral lands and cut off from the river that had long sustained their people; of residents in Altamira whose neighborhoods were leveled or destroyed by crime; of families forced to move from their lifelong homes into crumbling structures on the dangerous outskirts of town.

The impacts of the dam are severe and far-reaching, and they haven’t stopped with the near-completion of construction, or the dam’s ongoing operation.

At the end of January, I traveled with my colleague Marcella to Altamira and surrounding areas to meet with our partners on the ground, interview victims and document their stories.

In the months since, we’ve spent long hours compiling our report to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. In it, we tell of Belo Monte’s impacts in the voices of those who know them best—its victims. Through it, we will bring their voices before the Commission in the hopes that their stories will elevate the fight, and help them to achieve justice.

We’re now just weeks away from submitting our report to the Commission, and we couldn’t be prouder of the work we’ve done in collaboration with the brave people affected by Belo Monte and our many dedicated local partners, particularly the Movimento Xingu Vivo para Sempre.

It’s our hope that this report, and the stories it contains, are met with compassion and understanding by the members of the Commission. Then, we can bring Brazil to justice for the human rights violations being lived every day by people throughout the Xingu River basin.

Thank you for your continued support of justice for the people of the Brazilian Amazon.

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An indigenous girl navigates the Xingu River.
An indigenous girl navigates the Xingu River.

The Brazilian government signaled this week that it would no longer be promoting new mega-dams in the Amazon basin.

Paulo Pedrosa, the Executive Secretary of the Ministry of Mines and Energy, told Brazilian newspaper O Globo that the government didn’t want to take on more battles against indigenous and traditional communities, who have bravely been defending their culture and territory against the impacts of large dams.

Activists and experts suggest the about-face may also have to do with mounting corruption scandals involving the state-owned construction companies behind the dam boom.

Coupled with the small number of dams included in the National Energy Plan, and a notable decrease in funding, the statement suggests a policy shift could be forthcoming for the Amazon nation that has long prioritized hydropower.  This would be a surprising victory for AIDA and our allies who have long fought against the damaging energy projects, particularly in the wake of the socially and environmentally devastating Belo Monte Dam.

Brazil currently gets 70 percent of its energy from large dams, and had planned a series of dams in the Amazon basin that could have added 50 gigawatts of hydropower by 2050, according to government studies.

But the centerpiece of the dam boom, the Belo Monte Dam, shines a light on the just why that plan wouldn’t work. The world’s fourth largest dam has become a prime example of how not to produce energy in the 21st Century.

Belo Monte displaced more than thirty thousand people, caused extensive environmental devastation, and cut indigenous and traditional communities off from the river and forest that sustain them.

AIDA and our allies have been working against Belo Monte since its inception.

Representing indigenous and riverine communities, we filed a case against Brazil at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights for the human rights violations caused by the dam.  We have also secured protective measures for affected populations.  

Throughout, AIDA has provided extensive information about the environmental and human harms of the dam to the Commission and the government of Brazil.  Our attorneys travel to the areas most affected by Belo Monte to gather victim testimony and update the communities on the proceedings. 

Complementing our work on Belo Monte, AIDA has been a key player in a global campaign against the ongoing funding of large dams, which have no place on our rapidly changing planet.  Beyond harming human communities and rivers, large dams also emit methane – a potent climate pollutant.

Through scientific reports, public outreach campaigns, and advocacy before international institutions, AIDA has been working for more than a decade to strengthen international standards applicable to large dams, and to promote real and appropriate energy solutions for the region.

We are confident that AIDA’s work on Belo Monte, coupled with our public outreach campaign, was pivotal to driving what seems like a substantial policy shift. 

We applaud this potential advance, and will continue monitoring the situation and working with affected communities. We look forward to holding the Brazilian government to their commitment to protect the Amazon and the communities therein.

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Reporting with my colleague Rodrigo in Altamira.
Reporting with my colleague Rodrigo in Altamira.

During my recent trip to the Xingu River, I witnessed the worst of the impacts of the Belo Monte Dam. 

Due to the vast environmental changes caused by the dam’s construction, more than thirty thousand people have been displaced from their homes, indigenous communities have lost their connection to the forest, and traditional fishermen have been cut off from the river.

As the people of Altamira, along with the indigenous and riverside communities in the surrounding forest, deal with the ever-increasing impacts of the dam, achieving justice for them takes on a new urgency. 

That's why I'm happy to report that this coming year, 2018, brings a new hope for Belo Monte's victims. 

On October 31, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights gave new impetus to our litigation process against Brazil: it decided to unite two stages of the process that, as a rule, as processed separately. 

That means our case before the Commission is being sped up, and we are closer to achieving a decision on the allegations of human rights violations against Brazil. 

It's thanks to your support that we've been able to continue this case, demanding justice for the people of the Xingu, even as Belo Monte has entered operations. 

The AIDA team is entering 2018 with renewed hope that our case before the Commission will soon bear fruit. We're planning visits to the region, preparing our report, listening to the victims and documenting their stories. 

Thank you for your continued support. Together we can achieve this important victory! 

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Houses in a resettlement zone near Altamira.
Houses in a resettlement zone near Altamira.

Once again, operations of the Belo Monte Dam have been ordered to stop.

Last month, a federal court in Brasilia suspended the dam’s installation license, finding fault with the operating company’s resettlement program.

It’s a decision that underscores what I saw on my recent trip to Altamira, and highlights the realities the people there are living with every day.

Not only did Norte Energía not build the three different-sized houses promised for displaced families, many of the homes they did build are now falling apart. While in Altamira, I heard of two different homes in two different neighborhoods that fully collapsed.

What’s more, the resettlement areas are located in the far reaches of the city, on freshly deforested land that borders the jungle, without proper transportation and infrastructure.

They’re far from the neighborhoods, the services, the corner stores, and the sense of community that the people of this once-tranquil jungle town grew up with. 

Many of the people in Altamira had lived in the same neighborhood all their lives—as kids they played in the streets, as adults they sat in chairs outside talking to their neighbors. Holidays and festivals were spent in community.

Now displaced from the homes they’ve always know, those affected by the dam are secluded in small, concrete houses. They’re far from their schools, their churches, their friends and families.

There are no corner stores, nowhere to walk to, and it’s too dangerous to even gather outside. They have to pay high prices for transportation to get into the city to get to work and school.

It’s a new reality for the people of Altamira—a traditional riverside town whose culture and commerce have long been based on the Xingu River.

It’s a reality they didn’t agree to, and one they certainly didn’t ask for.

The latest federal court decision is a step in the right direction for the people of Altamira.

It upholds many of the same arguments we’re making in our case before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and provides evidence of the hardships those affected by the dam are living with every day.

It’s for them that we’re continuing this fight, to hold Brazil accountable for the damages they’ve endured in the name of development.

Together, we can make their voices heard. Thank you for supporting the fight for justice for the people of the Xingu. 

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AIDA's Rodrigo Sales tours affected areas.
AIDA's Rodrigo Sales tours affected areas.

Construction on the Belo Monte Dam in the Brazilian Amazon is complete and more than 90,000 workers have left the region.

For some, the job is done. But for the community surrounding the dam, life has been changed forever. Justice has not been served, the fight continues, and so does AIDA’s work.

That’s why fellow attorney Rodrigo Sales and I traveled to Altamira last month. We spent a week gathering stories, meeting with partners, and seeing first hand the realities of life on the ground.

TODAY your donation will support our work – and be matched at 50% by GlobalGiving! YOU can help us serve justice.

More than six years into this fight, it’s astounding that we still learn of new impacts of Belo Monte. There’s no end to the stories of people whose lives and livelihoods have been destroyed.

During our time in Altamira, we met Pedro, one of Belo Monte’s most recent victims. A few months ago, the island he was living on flooded and Pedro lost not only his home, but also the yucca and pepper crops he relied upon for food and to make a living.

Without a home, Pedro traveled an hour down the river in his dugout canoe, known as a chalupa, to Altamira, where he slept on a pier near the river. An elderly man, he quickly got sick and was admitted to the hospital. While in the hospital, his chalupa was damaged and his fishing gear stolen.

Norte Energía, the operating company of Belo Monte, at first acknowledged that Pedro was affected by the dam, and put him up in a hotel in town. But after 10 days they kicked him out, saying his island was outside of the affected area, and left him to fend for himself.

Your gift TODAY will help us advocate for Pedro and the communities living in the shadow of the Belo Monte dam.

Now bouncing between shelters, friends’ houses and old age homes, Pedro is in a state of unrest. He says he feels threatened and that his “soul is damaged” to be so far from the river, from his island and all he knows.

After three months, Pedro finally got a piece of good news: local activists with the Movimiento Xingu Vivo got him a new chalupa so he can return to the river. But he still feels he has nowhere to go.

As for Pedro, any inkling of hope seems to lie in the hands of the local people. They are helping each other, as best they can under bad circumstances.

But they’re still waiting on justice, and we’re still fighting for it.

Today your donation will go even further:

Justice will come when Brazil is held accountable for the damages suffered by the indigenous and riverine communities of the Xingu. And when those affected have the opportunity to safely and adequately rebuild their lives.

This is our case before the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights. And that’s why we need your continued support.

Thank you for joining us in helping Pedro and the people of the Xingu River!

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Organization Information

Asociacion Interamericana Para La Defensa Del Ambiente (AIDA)

Location: San Francisco, CA - USA
Website:
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Twitter: @AIDAorg
Project Leader:
Astrid Puentes
Lima, Brazil
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