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Brazil '98: Introduction
Brazil '98: Participants
Brazil '98: Map of Brazil
Brazil '98: Itinerary
Brazil '98: Itinerary - Introduction
Brazil '98: Itinerary - Rio de Janeiro
Brazil '98: Itinerary - Rondonio
Brazil '98: Itinerary - Roads to hell
Brazil '98: Itinerary - Deforestation
Brazil '98: Itinerary - Acre
Brazil '98: Itinerary - The working day of a Rubber Tapper in Acre
Brazil '98: Itinerary - The Chico Mendes story
Brazil '98: Itinerary - Manaus
Brazil '98: Itinerary - Para
Brazil '98: Itinerary - Dam Busters
Brazil '98: Itinerary - The Gold Rush and bombing of air strips
Brazil '98: Itinerary - Brasilia D.F.
Brazil '98: Itinerary - Rio de Janeiro and the return
Brazil '98: Debates
Brazil '98: Sponsors
Brazil '98: Brazil Facts

Dam Busters

Large hydroelectric dam complexes are the target for much criticism from environmentalists. Organisations such as the International Rivers Network (IRN), the Sierra Club and the Environmental Defense Fund, all based in the US, are critics of such complexes. Recently, when the massive Three Gorges dam complex was formally unveiled in China, newspapers were full of reports of how this would cause irrevocable environmental damage. The International Rivers Network put an advert in the New York Times telling foreign companies and banks to withdraw their investments in the complex. In March 1997 the first international meeting of People Affected by Dams was held in the city of Curitiba in Brazil. Delegates demanded an immediate moratorium on the building of large dams. The majority of the delegates were from Brazil. Brazil presently has 600 large dams (defined as over 15 metres) with another 494 proposed. Under Brazil on the Move, Brazil plans to build ten new dams in the Amazon region. The meeting heard complaints from these people about problems, such as filthy water and an increase in mosquitoes and diseases when rivers are dammed and the forced relocation without compensation of tens of thousands of people who lived on dam sites.
The largest funder of dam complexes, the World Bank, is now listening to the environmental campaigners. In April 1997, at a conference on dams in Geneva, the World Bank agreed to set up ‘guidelines for building and operating dams which will balance the competing demands of the economy and the surrounding environment’. In November 1997, the World Bank also launched the World Commission on Dams in Washington with the World Conservation Union and anti-dam campaigners. It will set up and enforce the first international standards for dam construction and management.
Environmental organisations such as the International Rivers Network also oppose the Serra da Mesa dam, located south of the Tucuruí dam on the Rio Tocantins. This is the last of the huge dams commissioned by the Brazilian military government during the 1970s. They argue that the 154 metre high Serra da Mesa will destroy flora and fauna, including some endangered species, destroy pre-historic archaeological sites and cover mineral reserves. They also add that the timber valued at US$15 million will be left to rot beneath the reservoir along with vegetation which could affect water quality in the future.
The Balbina Dam on the Rio Uatumã in the state of Amazonas, is now recognised even by government officials as a disaster. Balbina was another of the huge dam complexes developed by the Brazilian military government during the 1970s. Its flood gates closed in 1987. It flooded an area of 236,000 hectares of forest. This contained 58.5 million cubic metres of wood with a total value of US$400 million. Environmentalists have a list of complaints: biodiversity loss, the creation of stagnant water and the increase in diseases, the death of the Rio Uatumã upstream, the displacement of peasants and the Waimiri Artoari Indians, with little or no compensation. Finally, they point out it will only produce 32 per cent of its proposed electricity generating capacity, just 80 megawatts of power (the average Brazilian dam produces 50-65 per cent of its proposed capacity).
The lengths to which environmentalists and anti-dam activists will go to stop the construction of dams is illustrated by the story of the Rio Altamira-Xingu Hydroelectric dam complex in Pará. In 1988 the Brazilian Government was in the final stages of negotiating a power sector loan with the World Bank to finance the complex of nine dams. The loan was halted. A major factor in the decision to halt the loan was the campaign led by US environmentalists and the Kayapó Indian tribe from the affected area. The dam complex would have covered 7.6 million hectares of land. The US$10.6 billion project would have displaced the Kayapó and other Indian groups. The campaign which ensued centred on the argument that Indian environmental knowledge would have been lost if their communities were displaced. The wealth and importance of the ‘folk-scientific systems’ of the Indians was used as an argument to challenge the construction of the complex.
In January 1988, whilst attending an international symposium in Florida on the ‘Wise Management of Tropical Forest’, Kayapó Indian leaders were encouraged by environmentalists to protest to the main lender–the World Bank–against the dam complex. The National Wildlife Federation and the Environmental Defence Fund paid for their expenses and organised for them to visit Washington. In February 1988, at the same time as the Brazilian Government was negotiating with the World Bank, the Indians, accompanied by environmentalists and anthropologist Darrell Posey, lobbied the World Bank, the State Department, Treasury representatives, members of Congress and the Congressional Human Rights Caucus. The US director of the World Bank assured the Indian chiefs that he would continue to vote against the power sector loan. Other directors, although less committal, declared that they would investigate infringements of Bank rules protecting Indians and the forest resources upon which they depended.
The Washington visit was followed up with an international campaign. On returning from the US, the Indian leaders were indicted by the Brazilian Government for, among other things, ‘jeopardising Brazil’s economic relations’. In their defence the Indians were supported by an array of groups: the Brazilian Bar Association (OAB) and its Human Rights Commission, the Brazilian Anthropology Association, the Brazilian Society for the Advancement of Science, the International Society of Ethnobiology, Cultural Survival, Survival International, Amnesty International and hundreds of other NGOs concerned with conservation, Indian rights and human rights. This campaign led to the creation of alliances between human and Indian rights groups, on the one hand and environmentalists on the other.
These alliances led to a meeting known as The First Encounter of Native Peoples of the Xingu which took place in February 1989 in Altamira, in Pará. At the meeting indigenous groups and environmentalists drew up A United Strategy for the Preservation of the Amazon and its Peoples. The world’s media and an assorted array of personalities, such as the pop singer, Sting, co-founder of the Rainforest Foundation, attended. The five day meeting centred around demonstrations against the proposed dams on the Xingu River.
The environmental campaign also led to the launch of Nossa Natureza, Our Nature, the Brazilian Government’s first environmental policy. As part of this policy the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Resources was set up.
The environmentalists’ campaigns may not have been the only reason for the halting of the loan. In the late 1980s the US was attempting to end Brazil’s state protection of its industries. Brazil was cited for unfair trade practices under the US’s Super 301 Trades Act. The US accused Brazil of high import duties in the protection of its computer industry and of failing to protect US pharmaceutical patents and trademarks. In addition the US opposed and was attempting to undermine Brazil’s nuclear power accord with Germany. In this context it is possible to argue that the US had an ulterior motive for paralysing the loan. The campaign orchestrated by US environmentalists may have given the US justification for its actions.