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
The operating license for the dam has been stalled
The operating license for the dam has been stalled

Just yesterday we received news that the Brazilian government has delayed issuing an operating license for the Belo Monte dam. In their technical analysis of the dam, the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA) concluded that the conditions required to approve Belo Monte's Operating License have not yet been met. Ten of twelve conditions identified by IBAMA as pending compliance are considered essential for granting the license.

Until the operating consortium, Norte Energía, addresses these conditions, the project will be delayed and the dam's reservoir will not be flooded.

"We welcome IBAMA's thorough evaluation of Belo Monte, a project that has already had severe impacts on the environment and human rights," said Astrid Puentes Riaño, co-director of AIDA. "Moving forward, it is crucial that all conditions are met, and measures to protect the people and environment of the Xingú River basin are fully implemented before the license may be granted."

For more than five years, AIDA has supported indigenous and local communities and organizations in their fight to denounce the negative socio-environmental impacts of the Belo Monte project. The conclusions outlined by IBAMA reinforce the arguments of AIDA's and others who have long opposed the dam.

AIDA and partner organizations have long argued that conditions do not exist for the approval of licenses for Belo Monte. Essential services that would guarantee minimum rights to the displaced population remain outstanding, including potable water and health and sanitation services.  In 2011, the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights granted precautionary measures in favor of affected indigenous communities. The severity of the project's human rights violations have been reinforced in a report by the Socio-Environmental Institute (ISA) of Brazil, to which AIDA contributed, as well as in information gathered by the health and indigenous protection authorities and the Brazilian Public Ministry.

AIDA expects that IBAMA's technical report will be taken into consideration when making the final decision on the dam's operating license. The outright denial of the license would serve as a paradigm for future mega-projects planned in the Brazilian Amazon, as well as other parts of the region, sending a clear message that economic development projects must not engage in human rights violations.

Your support has enabled AIDA to demand that the Brazilian government and international institutions recognize these oversights. Help us continue our advocacy today and your monthly recurring donation will be matched by Global Giving!

Thank you, as always, for your generous support.

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The last home standing. | Sabrina Nascimento
The last home standing. | Sabrina Nascimento

Around Altamira, homes are being destroyed. In parts of the city, the familiar walls that have stood witness to birth and death, that have seen children grow and families evolve, have been reduced to rubble.

On the avenue 7th of September, Antonia's house is the last left standing. Her street is empty, piles of concrete all that remain of her friends and neighbors. Norte Energía has given her 10 days to evacuate.  On Tuesday, Antonia, a local activist and leader of Movimento Xingú Vivo, harvested five liters of sweet açai berries from the tree in her yard. Soon it too will be gone.

“[President] Dilma says the dams produce cheap electricity, but the cost is paid here in the destruction of the environment and the destruction of people’s lives,” she said in a conversation with The Guardian last December.

As an increasing number of neighborhoods are destroyed, and families displaced, the construction of Belo Monte continues. Beyond the town, the natural flow of the Xingú River, the wild waterway that has, for centuries, carved its way through the Brazilian Amazon, has abruptly begun to change course. Riverine communities are already feeling the effects of their changing landscape, their lives and livelihoods cut off by what will soon be the third largest dam in the world.

The operators of Belo Monte have begun provisional closures of the river in order to proceed with the last phases of the dam’s construction, which is now more than 70 percent complete. With work moving steadily along, the operators recently requested the dam’s operating license from the Brazilian Institute for Environmental & Natural Resources (IBAMA). That request signals the frightening final stage of the dam’s approval process. If granted, the license would authorize the filling of the dam and, thus, the final diversion of the Xingú River. The dam would thereafter begin partial operation.

We know that full operation of Belo Monte will worsen an already dire situation for communities affected by the construction of the dam. Already thousands have been forcibly relocated from their homes, in violation of their human rights, and only a fraction of those displaced have received any sort of minimum compensation.

In light of the risk established by the dam’s potential licensure, we at AIDA are even more determined to stop this process in its tracks. In July, alongside local NGOs Justiça Global, Sociedad Paraense de Defensa de los Derechos Humanos and Movimiento Xingú Vivo para Siempre, AIDA filed a brief with the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (IACHR) on behalf of the affected communities.

In the brief we urged the Commission to maintain precautionary measures granted in favor of the indigenous communities of the Xingú River basin. We argued, based on our fact finding and supported by a report of the Socio-Environmental Institute of Brazil, that the social and environmental situation surrounding Belo Monte is urgent and only worsening, and that measures have not been taken to avoid irreparable damage to riverine communities. 

Our arguments were reinforced by a report filed by the Federal Prosecutor’s Office after a mission to Altamira in July. Through recorded testimonies, they proved that the forced relocations are depriving families of their means of subsistence, and violating their human rights. By ignoring the importance of maintaining the families’ lifestyle, the relocation is in violation of the principles of the project’s environmental basic plan.

In the face of such blatant disregard for human rights, we are continuing the fight to stop the damage being caused by Belo Monte. We do so alongside Antonia, and a strong coalition of affected peoples and organizations on the ground in Brazil.

“Brazil must comply with its national and international human rights obligations”, said María José Veramendi Villa, senior attorney at AIDA.  “We won’t cease our efforts until Brazil is held responsible for violating the human rights of the indigenous and riverine communities affected by the Belo Monte dam.” 

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Apiaka indigenous leader during a protest
Apiaka indigenous leader during a protest

As construction of the world’s third-largest hydroelectric dam, Belo Monte, moves forward, social impacts and unrest continue. In the coming few months, close to 2,000 families are scheduled to be relocated from their homes in Altamira, on the Xingu River in Brazil, to newly built housing. Last year, another 2,000 families were resettled.

The reconfiguring of the region continues to create social ills. The new settlements are far from downtown Altamira, and there is no public transportation. Many new houses are already showing structural problems, and there is little to no basic infrastructure such as health care centers, schools, and sewer treatment facilities. Also, as part of being relocated, a family must agree that they have no complaint or concern with the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant or the company responsible for the construction, a difficult ask for many who are giving up so much.

For many indigenous communities, there is an explosion of illegal logging on their lands. Norte Energia,the consortium building Belo Monte, has not implemented required monitoring systems or constructed surveillance stations which would deter the logging. As a result, FUNAI, Brazil’s government agency that oversees Indian rights, reports that the situation is critical, and especially serious for the lands of the indigenous Arara people.

Throughout the area, demonstrations continue by those who seek justice, recognition and compensation. Last month, hundreds of farmers held protests demanding land tenure, credit, and improvements to family farming. Two people died after being hit by a car that broke the blockade of protesters. This situation represents the unease, unrest, and violence that permeates the region.

Clearly, the construction of Belo Monte has caused enormous impact in the Xingu River Basin – well before it’s operational phase.

Four years ago, on the request of AIDA and partner organizations in Brazil, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights took an important step forward for the people of the region. It requested that the Brazilian government adopt precautionary measures to prevent irreparable damage to the rights of indigenous communities whose cultural integrity and way of life were at risk from the construction of Belo Monte.

Clearly, after all these years, these threats remain: Brazil has not honored the precautionary measures.

AIDA will continue working until we ensure that the environment and the rights of communities in Brazil’s Xingú River Basin are fully respected. We believe that the Commission still has time to act, and that there is potential for the Brazilian government to reframe its policies and practices to become a global model for equity and justice.

How do you think we can better communicate the gravity of this issue?  We'd love to hear your thoughts.

Thank you so much for your ongoing support of our work for the people and the environment of the Amazon.

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As the festivities of Carnival entertained most people in Brazil last month, residents of the Xingu River basin received devastating news. The company building Belo Monte - in the midst of their Amazon homeland - requested the operating license for the dam. This action brings the reality of the dam ever closer, including flooding of the Xingu River basin, further relocation of families, lack of adequate compensation, and the end of traditional livelihoods and cultures.

But it also defies the requirements defined by Brazil’s environmental agency when it granted the installation license to Norte Energia for the dam. Homes that have been built are falling apart and thousands of families do not yet have a new home. Schools and health centers have not been built or are not operational. Electrical infrastructure is inadequate or non-existent. Sanitation systems are poorly constructed – in fact, many people are complaining that the smell in the new neighborhoods is unbearable. Even moreso relocation efforts are not respecting family and community relationships, causing the disintegration of these important social structures.

Furthermore, the influx of dam workers and Norte Energia’s efforts to pacify opposition to the dam has wreaked havoc on the communities as described in a recent article in “The Guardian.” Social ills such as prostitution, drug abuse, and violence are now commonplace. In a recent interview with Amazon Watch, the long-time leader of the Xingu Alive Forever movement, Antonia Melo, describes the impacts as “an extremely humiliating situation that has turned people’s hopes of a better life into a nightmare.

Despite years of protests and campaigning, indigenous communities continue to demand justice. In February they blockaded the primary highway into the region and are adamant that they will continue to seek recognition and demand compliance by the State and the company.

AIDA remains committed to representing the people of the Xingu communities in international forums. Our advocacy for their human rights is as important as ever - not only for the residents of the Xingu River, but for the precedent it will set throughout Latin America where hundreds of dams are being proposed or constructed, very often without recognition of the negative human and environmental impacts.

Legal work requires patience, as results don’t come immediately; therefore a long term commitment is a must. Thank you so much for supporting AIDA and our efforts to right the wrongs of the Belo Monte dam. We welcome your donation for this important work.

With gratitude, thank you from all of us at AIDA!

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Our AIDA attorneys with community members
Our AIDA attorneys with community members

When I visited the construction site of the Belo Monte dam a few months ago, I was devastated. In the city of Altamira, violence and tension are palpable. To protect dam construction from any delays, the city is militarized, with state police constantly patrolling the streets, and National Security Forces at dam worksites. My close colleagues saw a couple being murdered next to where they were eating dinner. We felt as if we were being followed and watched.

Along with another AIDA attorney and our regional partners, I visited indigenous communities that will soon lose access to the river, and with it their way of life and sacred sites.

Meanwhile, Dilma Rouseff, president of Brazil and then candidate for re-election, was presenting Belo Monte as one of the most important infrastructure projects of her government. Without stepping foot in the most affected cities and communities, Rouseff recorded a campaign video from the construction site praising the magnitude of the dam. In it, she promotes Belo Monte as a great contribution, while ignoring its grave impacts, clearly illuminating her priorities.

“Many people in Brazil don’t know that we’re building a project of this size,” she says with pride. She notes that the amount of concrete in it could create 48 Maracanã [Rio de Janeiro’s soccer stadium], and that construction will excavate more rocks and earth than were moved for the Panama Canal.

She says nothing about the impact on people and their communities. Nor does she address reports on the energy inefficiency of the Belo Monte dam.

Our AIDA team visits the area often to document the situation. We sympathize with the pain of the affected people. They are witnessing the increasing degradation of the river, the decline in natural resources, and the deterioration of their communities. They are envisioning the complete loss of their culture and way of life.

The day before I traveled to Brazil, I found out I was pregnant. At various times during my stay, I felt fear and distress. I was worried for the safety of my friends, of myself, and of the little person growing inside of me.

At the same time, I felt confident that our work was important for a healthier and more just world - for all of us who are here, and those of us who are on the way. We must continue to press for recognition and full protection of the rights of affected people, and for mitigation and compensation.

Far greater than politics are the life and integrity of people. I refuse to lose hope that justice will be done!

This holiday season, please consider a gift to help AIDA continue this important work, to defend the rights of communities impacted by Belo Monte.

Thank you so much 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
$19,519 raised of $20,000 goal
 
407 donations
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