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
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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Aerial of Belo Monte construction in the Amazon
Aerial of Belo Monte construction in the Amazon

AIDA's attorneys Maria Jose Veramendi and Alexandre Sampaio recently traveled to communities along the banks of the Xingu River, site of construction of the Belo Monte dam. They gathered testimony, photos and data to report to the Inter American Commission on Human Rights.

Not surprisingly, what they witnessed mirrors the sobering data recently reported in the New York Times that dams are hugely detrimental to the environment, and don't deliver on intended economic benefits.


Maria Jose provide a quick recap of their trip:

What was your goal?  

MJ: We were documenting the situation of the communities affected by the construction of the dam to inform the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the current situation.  This regular site monitoring is critical as the IACHR relies on organizations such as AIDA to keep them apprised of the status of cases.

What new developments have taken place since you last visited?  

MJ: The situation is getting worse. The construction is now 65% complete so the impacts are becoming more and more visible. For those groups working on behalf of the affected communities, it is becoming increasingly tense and dangerous.  [Brazilian] security forces are notable everywhere.  For the residents of Altamira, basic services are overloaded. Also, sexual violence is on the rise because of the influx of construction workers.

Are the local people being compensated for the dam's impact on their lives and communities?  

MJ:  Some people have agreed to leave their homes but Norte Energia (the company building the dam) bought them for a very nominal fee.  Others do not want to leave but are being forced to. The homes being built for relocation are not adequate for the needs of the people, and there has been flooding in these areas. Also, moving means they must change their way of life, from fishing and farming to working in any type of job that allows them to survive.  They receive no other support for their relocation.

What will AIDA be doing in response to what you observed/information gathered?

MJ: We will provide a comprehensive update to the Inter-American Commission, which details the impact and suffering of the people and communities.  It is another critical step in advancing this case, and to assuring that human rights violations are recognized and mitigated.

Thank you for your support of AIDA's work, to provide legal representation for the people affected by Belo Monte.  Your donation makes a difference!   

Now thru September 10th, Global Giving is providing a 100% match for all new recurring donations!  $10/month becomes $240 for the year!

We appreciate your contribution!

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Many of us spent a good portion of June and July focused on the excitement of the Brazil-hosted World Cup games. But not all Brazilians were so intrigued.

While almost everyone loves soccer in Brazil, many communities were distracted by socially and environmentally damaging mega-projects – including the Belo Monte Dam. For them, there is continued anger and frustration with the destructive impacts of state investment in big-ticket infrastructure.

Two well-written overviews provide perspective on the impacts of Belo Monte:

The realities affecting our clients in Belo Monte have kept AIDA’s team of attorneys focused during the World Cup. Together with partner organizations, AIDA submitted a brief to Brazil’s Supreme Federal Court. The information demonstrates that congressional approval of the Belo Monte Dam in 2005 is illegal because the government didn’t guarantee the affected communities in the Amazon their right to consultation and "free, prior and informed consent."

“This is the first time that our combined efforts have reached the Supreme Court on Belo Monte,” said AIDA attorney María José Veramendi Villa. “The situation has reached a crisis level.”

In August, two AIDA attorneys will travel to Belo Monte. They will continue to collect testimony, meet with client communities and partner organizations, and document the social and environmental consequences.

Your support has made our work possible, and this provides hope that we can succeed in ensuring that justice is served for those affected by Belo Monte.

Thank you.

Links:

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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
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