More Information on Brazil’s Power Sector

It’s easy to denounce something because you don’t like the idea. But that is often hard to justify without having the facts at your disposal, and for campaigners it is often difficult to get facts, when all of the financial muscle and research capacity is lined up on the opposition side.

But in the case of Belo Monte, and the wider issue of Brazilian energy security, there is an excellent, detailed and authoratitive report, which was drawn up by WWF Brazil in association with clean power industries.

With a foreword by the respected Professor José Goldemberg, who is also Secretary for the Environment for the State of São Paulo, this is a heavyweight analytical document which includes cost and benefit analysis of the options.

It concludes, “The study shows that with an effective electricity demand reduction programme and the aggressive adoption of policies stimulating renewable energy investment and efficient and retrofitted power facilities, Brazil will meet its 2020 electricity needs at low-cost and in a low impact way.”

WWF-Brazil’s Sustainable Power Sector Vision 2020 – English

Agenda Elétrica Sustentável 2020 – Português

Anexos Técnicos Agenda Elétrica Sustentável – Português


Vale: The Worst Company in the World – 27/01/2012

It’s offical. The 2012 Public Eye Award for the company with the poorest environmental and human rights record goes to Brazil’s Vale.

Fighting off stiff opposition from Japan’s Tepco (owners of the Fukushima nuclear plant) and Korea’s Samsung, Vale was voted the worst by a huge 25,041 individual votes.

Vale’s involvement in Belo Monte was one of the principal reasons for its nomination. The award recognises the appalling human and environmental costs being inflicted by Belo Monte.

In his speech at the awards ceremony, Berne Declarations’s François Meienberg said, “All the nominations, which we publish annually, reveal a striking absence of the rule of law. The nominations are an outcry against a system in which human rights criminals and environmental desecrators need not fear punishment.”

More Info:
Public Eye Awards Press release
Guardian Report

Public Eye Awards – 25/01/2012 VOTE NOW!

Vale is the world’s largest mining corporation. Based in Brazil, it has a 10% stake in Belo Monte.

Vale is currently in the lead in the Public Eye Award, given annually during the Davos World Economic Forum to the company voted to have the poorest environmental and social record.

Please help to make sure Vale gets the award. It will shine the spotlight of public shame on the whole Belo Monte scheme. Vote now; you only have until tomorrow!

Vote Vale for the Public Eye Award

Work Has Started – 24/01/2012

Immediately after the Federal Court reversed its injunction, which prevented work on the bed of the river, the Norte Energia moved in with a vengeance. Using dynamite and heavy machinery they have shown no mercy, not to the river, not to its people.

There are still eleven cases which have yet to work their way through the labyrinthine Brazilian legal system. Any one of them could halt the construction – if they manage to come before the higher courts before the river is completely destroyed.

But that is unlikely to happen, given the tortuously slow speed of Brazilian justice and the break-neck  pace of construction. The Government and Norte Energia have cynically played the system to bypass Brazilian law – even the Brazilian constitution.

On a mega-project like this, that is obscene. An ethical government woould stay its hand and wait for the courts to decide in a civilised manner.

Dam it: Brazil’s Belo Monte stirs controversy – Features – Al Jazeera English
Belo Monte Construction Shut Down by Protestors | International Rivers

Encontro Xingu 2008 in the Brazilian Press

Though my words will reach far fewer eyes than those of Brazilian journalist Ronaldo Soares, writing in the magazine Veja, I feel bound to offer a repudiation to the gratuitous sensationalism he provides in the guise of journalism.

His opening sentence already shows his prejudice, bordering on racism; “The scenes of a group of savage Amazonians attacking the engineer Paulo Fernando Rezende, of Eletrobrás, circulated the world last week.”

He continues by trotting out tired and discredited references to international interference in the Brazilian Amazon, referring to “an international event promoted by NGOs and environmentalists.” He obviously attended a different event from the one I was at – if, indeed, he was there at all.

I saw a root-and-branch Brazilian event, initiated by a huge body of well-informed and articulate Brazilian indigenous people and supported and organised by Brazilian community groups and NGO’s, most of which were local organisations based in the states of Pará and Mato Grosso.

Before I am attacked by Soares for not telling the whole story, I will say that the event was supported financially by a number of sympathetic organisations from other parts of the world, but as far as I am aware they played no part in organising it, nor did they influence the material discussed.

Soares mentions that the audience was hostile during Rezende’s presentation. He doesn’t mention that the interruptions came not from the Indians, who sat in silence during the whole presentation, but from very vocal non-Indian opponents of the Belo Monte project.

He doesn’t mention that Rezende’s manner was objectionable, to say the least. He harangued the Indians, thrusting his pointed finger in their direction repeatedly. He belittled their importance, stating over and over again that the Belo Monte dam will bring great benefits to Brazil and that they shouldn’t stand in the way of those benefits. He showed a series of impenetrable slides, diagrams and statistics, knowing full well that they would be unintelligible to the majority of his audience – including me. Many of his slides had no units and no scale, and were scientifically and technically meaningless. They appeared to be intended only to belittle and confuse the audience.

Resende came over as arrogant, bordering on aggressive. He appeared disinterested in the Indians’ point of view – or that of the local people – and domineering in his manner. He seemed to have no interest in a dialogue; he was there to say his piece, then he intended to leave.

The fact that he was injured is of course entirely regrettable, but it is understandable. The Indian culture is not the same as the mainstream; they have a formal system of oratory, with a sliding scale of forcefulness, which can encompass a symbolic level of aggression. Rezende overstepped the limits considered polite in Indian oratory, and paid the price.

Even so, I am far from convinced that the wound he received was intended. The Indians, when they surrounded him and tore off his shirt, were making a symbolic point. Members of the press rushed in, cameras held high, in a typical competitive lust for a scoop picture. There were Indians of several ethnic groups, wielding a mixture of borduna war clubs and machetes, crowded round the unfortunate engineer, prodding him with the blunt ends of their bordunas and patting his face with the flats of their machetes. These are formal acts and amount to no more than forceful, if frightening, rhetoric, especially on the part of the Kayapo.

I was not in the middle of this meleé, though I was close to it. I did not see the actual moment when Rezende received the wound, so I cannot say for sure what happened. But I do not believe the Indians intended to injure him; had they meant to, his injuries would certainly have been much worse. In my opinion, it is likely that the injury was an accidental result of the media scrum; it would have been easy for someone pushing in from the back to have nudged an Indian’s arm or back, resulting in an unintended injury.

Soares talks about ‘savage white environmentalist’ who, he claims, planned, armed and incentivated the Indians. He claims that the organisers did not intervene. Yet video footage clearly shows some of the organisers courageously trying to calm the situation, putting themselves between the recumbent Rezende and the Indians, and receiving similar symbolic attention from the raise machetes.

To demonstrate the caring and gentle side of the Indians, I would like to recount a side story. Sitting on the floor close to Rezende at the end of his presentation was an elderly woman, a reporter from National Public Radio in the United States. She was unprepared for the storm of people who crowded in on the speakers, and was in some danger, purely from the pressure from the crowd. Two Indian chiefs, seeing her predicament, pushed through the crowd, gently picked her up and carried her bodily clear of the fracas. Is this the action of those same “savage Amazonians”?

Veja talks about some of the organisers buying machetes for the Indians; anyone who has ever worked with Indians will attest that the machete is a universal tool, used in cultivation, used in the preparation of food, used in the production of craft products, used in construction – in fact, used every day by every member of every Indian community for entirely peaceful purposes.

People working with Indians regularly receive requests for manufactured items, especially from Indians visiting town. Where a good case is made, workers will often agree to help Indians with buying what have become essential every-day items, of which the commonest is the machete. To characterise this as ‘arming the Indians’ is ludicrous and absurd.

Further displaying his poor jounalistic skills, Soares says that the Belo Monte dam “will produce 11,181 megawatts”, despite Eletrobrás having admitted that it will at best achieve 40 per cent of this ‘installed capacity’; other commentators put the figure even lower. Soares fails entirely to include the well-aired opinions of academics and engineers who have shown that Belo Monte alone can never be economically or technically viable. Without further dams higher upriver, which will flood an area larger than any existing dam in Brazil, it will simply fail to provide for Brazil’s energy needs.

Moving on to talk about the legal situation, Soares seems to imply that actions taken by Brazilian public prosecutors, based in Brazilian law, are in some way unjustified. Is he claiming that Brazilian laws should be transgressed with impunity? This is the road to anarchy; only by showing a consistent respect for, and enforcement of, statute law, can Brazil justify the confidence of recent international commentary which justifiably places it on the cusp of being a first world country.

I have shown in previous posts that the destruction of Indian lands cannot be justified, neither on legal grounds, nor on constitutional grounds and especially not on cultural or humanitarian grounds.

Brazil, which acknowledges the importance of the remaining Amazon forest, both to itself and to the rest of the world, has set aside almost 30 percent of the Brazilian Amazon as protected areas, of which over half is designated as Indigenous Territories. This is a huge achievement, and deserves to be acknowledged.

Day 5 – 24/05/2008; Riverside Departure

Participants began to assemble at the riverside from 7:30 with the arrival of buses loaded with rural workers and small farmers from the surrounding area. Many had started out in the small hours just to attend this last day; others had been in Altamira for some days.

By the time the Indians arrived, more than an hour later, the non-Indians were in full swing. They formed an arena surrounded by banners, and several community leaders made impassioned speeches.

An unexpected arrival was the BBC’s Bruce Parry. He is in the Amazon making a series with Indus Films, following the river from its source in the Peruvian Andes to its mouth. Cameraman Keith’s video camera simply dwarfed everyone else’s, as did the Indus crew of seven.

Bruce was not here specifically to cover the Encontro Xingu, but such a unique gathering of Indians and rural people was an opportunity the team could not resist. They seemed bowled over by the sheer scale of the event, but confused about why the Brazilian Government had decided not to send any senior representatives to hear the Indians’ case.

The Kayapo arrived in a column, dancing and chanting. Keith, who is very tall, was surrounded by the warriors as they swept into the arena, circling in the traditional way. He relished the experience and emerged beaming.

Instinctively sensing another photo opportunity, the Indians rushed into the water, making symbolic use of the river to highlight their relationship with it. They circled, splashing defiantly, to make the point that this river is sacred to them, and that they will do whatever is required to defend it.

Bruce Parry interviewed the bishop, Dom Erwin Kraütler, at length. His probing questions displayed a good grasp of the situation; he clearly does his research well. Bruce later told us that he has been in South America since October last year, constantly travelling without a break, though other members of the crew have come and gone. Knowing the strain this brings, I have developed a quiet respect for the man.

After the incident on the second day the police presence at the Encontro had been stepped up. Riot police with machine guns, tear gas canisters and riot shields were a constant presence . But they behaved impeccably, staying well back and keeping a low profile. Here on the riverbank, I noticed one heavily-armed policeman shyly asking a Kayapo chief if he could take a souvenir photo with him!

The presence of so many policemen, though understandable, was proved completely unnecessary. Except for those two or three minutes on the second day of the event when a symbolic gesture went wrong, the entire week passed without even a hint of aggression.

During the week an intricate body paint design on an arm has become a fashion essential in Altamira. The Indian women have been doing a brisk trade outside the hall, with a line of people waiting their turn to be painted.

What was noticeable at this event was the level of mutual support between the Indians, members of the local Altamira community and local rural people. What was noticeable was a powerful exchange of culture between the two groups, who could be seen chatting, children with chiefs, women with women, men with warriors. What was noticeable was a sense of peaceful coexistence and mutual respect.

As the final ceremony drew to a close, the Indians boarded their buses, heading back to their villages. Several buses left direct from the riverside; those travelling further returned to the camp-site for one last good meal before they began their arduous two- or three-day bus journeys. For many, it will be several days or even weeks before they arrive home.

With the Indians gone, we expected to find the town returning to normal. But late in the morning on Saturday our attention was drawn by a banner-wielding procession of young people.

“What’s that about?” we asked a supermarket worker. “Belo Monte.” “For or against?” “It’s against. Practically everyone here is against. No-one wants the dam.”

The pictures for the last day:

© Patrick Cunningham

Day 4 – 23/05/2008; Brazilian and International Law, Cultural Respect

My good intentions to upload to this blog each day were thwarted by the failure of the local internet. This post covers the fourth day of the Encontro Xingu.

Day 4 saw legal matters discussed at length, covering the right of indigenous people to be consulted, and actions being taken as a result of the failure of Eletrobras to do so.

It included reference to the United Nations Convention 169, which relates to the rights of indigenous people to live and develop as differentiated peoples, in accordance with their own standards. More recently, Brazil heavily supported the United Nation’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Brazil joined another 142 nations of the world in voting for the declaration. Piragibe dos Santos Tarrago, Brazil’s representative, speaking on the day the Declaration was approved, said that Brazil welcomed the text. He said that Brazil’s indigenous peoples were crucial to the development of society at every level, and that Brazil would underscore that the exercise of the rights of indigenous peoples was consistent with the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the States in which they resided. At the same time, States should always bear in mind their duty to protect the rights and identity of their indigenous peoples, he added.

Displacing indigenous communities from their long-established locations may appear benign, even on occasions beneficial.

But those people have established a complex system of interraction with their environment. Their nutrition is based on fishing and hunting, which provide most of their protein, planting and harvesting, which provide most of their starch and carbohydrate, and collecting from the wild, which provides other essential nutrients including trace elements and vitamins.

Their relationship with the forest doesn’t stop there. They also harvest materials for building their houses and making tools and cultural items, such as body decorations, baskets and craft-work. They collect plants, roots, leaves, fruits, nuts and tree bark from which they make medicines. Many of these are found at some distance from the village, necessitating long expeditions to collect them; but the Indians have passed down the knowledge of their locations and uses through many generations, and they have become integral parts of their cultural heritage, and their intellectual property.

Many villages are strategically placed to take advantage of more than one kind of ecosystem. For example, the community may make use of materials from the rainforest and from drier cerrados areas. They may fish for some species in the river, and others in the lakes.

What most indigenous communities have in common, which continues to the present day, is that they do not rely on money to provide for their everyday needs. Money is still alien to them – they call it ‘dead leaves’ – and is only used to purchase the occasional manufactured items they use.

If you take this community and uproot the people from their location at the side of a flowing river and relocate them in another place, their entire cultural heritage becomes irrelevant to their everyday lives. They no longer know where to find the right kinds of food, they can no longer treat the diseases that were conquered by their ancestors generations in the past, and they can no longer house or feed themselves. They become reliant on food or money provided by the mainstream society, which may be provided only for a short time, and will always provide only the most basic level of nutrition and subsistence. Housing is constructed for them using alien materials, and is usually built in an alien form, further distancing them from their way of life and cultural self-expression.

Even if the community is not physically removed, it can still suffer cultural debasement because of changes in the environment imposed, deliberately or unthinkingly, by people outside of the indigenous reserve. This is the situation in the upper Xingu, where the dams on the headwaters threaten the food supplies of the fourteen tribes living in the Xingu Indigenous Park.

This action can only be described as cultural annihilation. It is diametrically at odds to Brazil’s words and commitments as expressed in the United Nations Declaration. There can simply be no justification, no explanation, no cost-benefit analysis which can justify such a complete abrogation of the country’s commitments, freely entered into and enthusiastically endorsed.

Back in the hall where the Encontro Xingu was drawing towards its close, when the speakers had each given their presentations, the Indians took control of the meeting. Each chief in turn came to the table, explained the source of his authority, and stated his community’s position. Without exception, the statement said, clerly and forcefully, “We do not want the government to build any dams on the Xingu.”

The presentations were calm and dignified. Each chief spoke briefly, directly to the Public Prosecutor. Some spoke in Portuguese, some spoke through an interpreter. Many asked him for his help. Some spoke about the Brazilian constitution; some reminded him that they too are Brazilians, in fact that they are the first Brazilians. Each chief then shook the Public Prosecutor’s hand and thanked him.

They demonstrated that they respect and accept the Brazilian mainstream culture. They even went as far as to sing the Brazilian National Anthem in the Kayapo Language. Now the Brazilian mainstream must show them that this respect is mutual.

The Day 4 picture gallery is here:

© Patrick Cunningham