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
Flooding in the streets of Altamira.
Flooding in the streets of Altamira.

On May 5th, the Brazilian government grandly inaugurated the Belo Monte Dam. It was with tremendous sadness that we witnessed then-President Dilma Rousseff and her administration celebrate an energy project that has been built on the backs of the indigenous and riverine communities of the Amazon.

Reflecting on the irony of the grand ceremony, and the injustice this dam has caused for the people who live beside it, I created a video blog to share my thoughts and feelings on the matter. Watch it here!

Now, just over a month from the time Belo Monte’s initial operations began, the ironies inherent in the celebration of the project are increasingly clear.

An international team of biologists has just released the results of a comprehensive study that warns of the negative impacts large dams have on biodiversity in the Amazon. Studying the impacts 191 existing dams, and 246 dams that are planned or under construction, they found that the construction and operation of large dams put many important species at risk and threaten the region’s biodiversity and ecosystem services. 

This week, the United Nations Working Group on Business and Human Rights released the report on their recent visit to Brazil. Several months before the dam’s inauguration, they toured the country gathering information and collecting testimonies from victims of human rights abuses in the country, including those affected by Belo Monte.

Thanks to your support, one of our attorneys, Flavia Vieira, accompanied the delegation of the Working Group on their visit to the area impacted by Belo Monte. She was able to share information with them and convey our assessment of the situation. 

We welcome the results of the report and the international light it shines on the realities of those impacted by Belo Monte. Since the UN’s visit there, Belo Monte has begun operations, and the situation of those living in its shadow has considerably worsened.

We hope that both the Brazilian government and Norte Energía comply with the recommendations made in the UN report, and take to light growing evidence of the damage large dams like Belo Monte cause to life in the Amazon. 

We will continue monitoring developments surrounding Belo Monte, and representing victims in our case before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. We will not stand for the injustice this dam continues to cause. And we will not rest until all responsible parties are held accountable.

Thank you for standing beside us in this important fight for justice.

Displaced indigenous people.
Displaced indigenous people.

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Power station for Belo Monte Dam. Maira Irigaray.
Power station for Belo Monte Dam. Maira Irigaray.

“The river is dead!” exclaimed Raimundo as we navigated in his motorboat from Altamira toward the big bend of the Xingu River.

From my perch in Raimundo’s boat, it was easy to see how bleak the landscape surrounding Altamira—the northern Brazilian city closest to the construction of the Belo Monte Dam—has become. The big island of Arapujá, located across from Altamira, has been completely deforested, causing a radical change in the currents of the river. Many of the smaller islands, previously inhabited by fishermen, are now completely submerged, only the tops of trees visible above the rising water.

I visited Altamira, and the indigenous and riverine communities nearby, with colleagues from Justiça Global. We came to update our case, and to inform those affected by Belo Monte of a new hope for justice: in December, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights opened the case against Brazil for human rights violations caused by the dam.

In January, Norte Energía, the company charged with the construction and operation of Belo Monte, opened the dam’s floodgates without warning communities living downstream.

They say the Xingu grew seven meters in just an hour. In some communities, the rising water flooded their riverside land, taking with it canoes, boats and items of clothing.

Destroying lives

The boat took us to a spot in the river where a large island once stood with a house in the middle. Raimundo Nonato had lived there. He raised animals and dedicated his life to fishing. It had been the perfect place to bathe in the river. It was there, in 2013, that Antonia, leader of Movimento Xingu Vivo Para Siempre, baptized me as a defender of these waters. Now the island is under water, and all that remains to be seen are the tops of some fruit trees.

Leoncio, an indigenous man from the community Arara da Volta Grande, says his community lives in fear of the river’s expected growth, the loss of their culture and way of life, and the death of 16 tons of fish. They have seen cracks in the dike of the dam’s bypass channel and fear it will break, as the Fundão mining waste dam did in Minas Gerais. On our tour of the area, we also noticed discolored patches on the dike, which should certainly be a sign of alarm.

Leoncio said the fear keeps him up at night.

On the indigenous lands of the Arara da Volta Grande and Paquiçamba, the life of inhabitants has changed radically. They must now travel to the city (Altamira) to sell their harvest and to buy food. The changing environment has drastrically reduced opportunities for fishing and hunting, rendering their traditional subsistence lifestyle inadequate.

Leoncio says that his peoples’ traditional knowledge and community life are being lost.

Their homes are different, as is the formation of their village. Norte Energía has carelessly constructed houses that conflict with their culture, because of the location and materials used. Their community lacks even a well from which to retrieve drinking water, a condition that should have been met more than five years ago.

Pain, injustice and struggle

On our trip, we spent nine days in the area around the Belo Monte dam. We listened to so many stories of pain and injustice: of indigenous children that died from bad medical care in villages without access to the city; of indigenous people who left their villages to seek shelter in the city and now live in the overcrowded Casa del Indio, surrounded by filth and, often, conflicting ethnic groups.

We relived the stories of tireless struggle, like that of Socorro, an indigenous woman whose home was destroyed, along with those of her relatives.

Socorro and her family all had to haggle with the company, as if their basic human rights were negotiable. Some received very little money in compensation, others the option of a prefabricated house in a neighborhood far from the river.

Socorro’s parents live in one of those neighborhoods. Behind their new cement house, they built a small home with the wood they were able to save from their destroyed home. It is there that they really live, by the light of small kerosene lamps, sleeping in hammocks. Electricity is not part of their lives.

Residents of Altamira live surrounded by the ironies of the third largest dam in the world. On February 28, Altamira and various cities in the state of Para were left without electricity. The cutoff, described by the receptionist at our hotel as routine, was due to testing on one of the dam’s turbines.

There’s not much time now until the Belo Monte begins operation.

If, for the countries of the region, Belo Monte represents the cherished dream of development, for me it represents a nightmare from which I’m dying to awake.

It’s a nightmare of pain and human rights violations, in which a beautiful, living river is quickly fading away. Going with it are the lives and the dreams of those who have long depended upon its clean and healthy waters.

Human rights are not negotiable. The victims of Belo Monte need justice now!

It is that dream of justice that I hope, one day soon, becomes reality.

As always, thank you for your support of our efforts to help those impacted by Belo Monte.

Traditional ways of life are being lost. Irigaray
Traditional ways of life are being lost. Irigaray
Islands are submerged by rising water. Irigaray.
Islands are submerged by rising water. Irigaray.
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Removing vegetation for the dam reservoir
Removing vegetation for the dam reservoir

This has been quite a month for the people of Altamira, Brazil, the city where the world’s third-largest dam is starting to flood an area the size of Chicago.

On December 21 of last year, we were elated when the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights finally—after four years of considering the legal documents we submitted—opened a case against Brazil. That means Brazil’s government must respond to claims of human rights violations caused by the Belo Monte Dam.

Then on January 11, we were even more elated to hear that the Federal Justice of Altamira suspended the Belo Monte Dam’s operating license. That action prevented the filling of the reservoirs.

The suspension was ordered because the government has still not restructured the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI) of Altamira—as it was ordered to do in 2010. The Foundation is partly in charge of implementing the precautionary measures that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights issued years ago to protect the people affected by the dam.

But on January 26, a Federal Regional Court overturned the order that suspended the operating license, once again clearing the way for the dam to begin filling the reservoirs. The judge explained his decision as in the best interest of the economy and public order. He even said the suspension would prevent implementation of plans to benefit indigenous peoples—plans that should have become realities well before the dam was allowed to operate!

This is yet another attack on the rights of the affected indigenous communities. The decision manipulates the arguments of public interest, order, security and the economy, and then uses the plans to justify why it is not possible to suspend the operating license. The bottom line is that the operating license never should have been granted in the first place without the fulfillment of those plans.

AIDA’s attorney Flavia do Amaral Vieira just returned from a trip to Altamira, where she participated on a strategic planning meeting with local movements and affected communities, as part of our on-going work to promote justice for the communities affected by Belo Monte.

Thanks to your donations, we are able to remain committed to this project!  Please consider a monthly gift to help us continue this critical work!

As always, thank you so much for your support of AIDA’s efforts to protect the indigenous people of Brazil.

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Even as the reservoirs of the Belo Monte dam are beginning to fill deep in the Brazilian Amazon, the controversial project is continuing to meet with international scrutiny.

We’re particularly proud to report that the day we’ve long awaited has arrived – the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has finally opened our case on Belo Monte!

Four years after we filed the original petition, the Commission has determined there to be sufficient grounds to open the case, and push the Brazilian government to respond to the many allegations of human rights violations caused by the massive hydroelectric project.

We hope and believe that now is the time for Brazil to respond comprehensively to our claims about:

  • the absence of consultation and free, prior and informed consent of affected indigenous communities;
  • the lack of participation and adequate assessment of environmental impact; and
  • the forced displacement and violations of the rights to life, health, integrity and justice of indigenous peoples, riverine communities, and residents of the city of Altamira. 

Based on Brazil’s response, the Commission will then determine if requirements have been met to have the case admitted and, if so, to establish whether or not the project caused the alleged human rights violations.

Above all, the opening of the case is a victory for the affected indigenous and riverine communities we represent, and the local social movements, who have endured for so many years in the face of adversity. Despite the continuing construction of the dam, they have shown nothing but strength and determination in their search for justice and reparation.

In December, the communities met with members of the United Nations Working Group on Business and Human Rights in Altamira, who will compile their findings from the visit into a report to be presented in June to the UN Human Rights Council.  Immediately after their visit, the Working Group issued a statement that, among other things, urged the Brazilian government to respect human rights, not sacrifice them in the name of economic development.

Under such pointed international pressure, we believe the time has finally come for Brazil to answer for the severe harm Belo Monte has caused to lives of those who live in its shadow. 

Thank you for continuing to support our long fight for justice for the people of the Xingú River basin.  Our work and your support continue to be so important to the lives and livelihoods of these communities.

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In the Amazon rainforest, families living on the Xingú River are about to be flooded out of their homes. Last Tuesday, November 24, Brazil's government issued a six-year operating license for Belo Monte Dam, which means two reservoirs are about to be filled.

We're joining our partners in Brazil in asking for an emergency court order to revoke the operating license.

If the dam is allowed to operate, the river below it will dry up, decimating the local fishing economy. Indigenous communities upstream, some still living in isolation, will lose their fishing areas, hunting grounds, their homes, and their ancestral lands.

We have a chance to save these communities, forests, and ways of life.  You can hep us with a donation today!  And your recurring monthly gift will receive a one-month match by Global Giving! 

Brazil's government has completely ignored its international human rights obligations to the people of the Xingú. To hold the government accountable to international law, AIDA has taken the people's case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and to the United Nations.

We need your help now more than ever to stop dams like Belo Monte. Because, to make matters worse, dams like Belo Monte-the world's third largest-contribute to climate change. When flooded vegetation rots, especially in the tropics, it releases enormous amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

Your support of our work will allow us to immediately:

  • Travel to affected communities, where we will develop legal and advocacy strategies with local leaders to ensure that this kind of destruction never happens again.
  • Go to the United Nations climate talks in Paris to raise international awareness of the harms large dams cause to climate and human rights.
  • Document the damage done to the people of the Xingú and submit the evidence to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and United Nations.

The situation in Brazil is dire! People have already been relocated far from their homes. President Dilma Rousseff said Brazil would live up to its international commitments, but her government approved the operating license despite ongoing human rights violations caused by the dam.

But there is still hope-and your help can make a difference. As Antonia Melo, leader of the Xingú Alive Forever Movement, said:

"We are so grateful for AIDA's help and concern. It makes us feel less lonely, and that there is still hope for a better future."

With your generous contribution, AIDA will advocate for an end to this outrageous injustice.

Thank you for your support!

 

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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
$19,494 raised of $20,000 goal
 
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