Posts Tagged 'amazon'



Bruce Parry at Altamira

Thank you BBC’s Bruce Parry for putting a link to our site on the BBC’s ‘Amazon’ site.

Bruce was there at the Altamira demonstration in May. Like many of us, he was incredulous at the Brazilian government’s insistence on building the white elephant Belo Monte hydroelectric dam, which will be capable of generating only a trickle of electricity for three months each year, despite being the world’s third largest.

If it is built this dinosaur will come to be seen as a huge error. It will be a mistake of gargantuan proportions which will be irreversible.

The Kayapo are just one of at least seven tribes which will be affected by this scheme. It will bring floods to some village, dry river beds to others, and a disrupted environment and permanent problems in growing, hunting and collecting enough food to eat, for both indigenous people and their rural neighbours.

For a blog from Altamira with pictures, see http://ipcst08.wordpress.com. For stunning pictures of indigenous people and their environment, click on the Photo Galleries on the right.

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The Heart of Brazil Exhibition in Brasilia

The Heart of Brazil Exhibition opened today at the Memorial of Indigenous People (Memorial dos Povos Indígenas), Praça do Buriti, Brasilia.

For the first time, the images from the Heart of Brazil Expedition will be seen in public in Brazil.

“It is vitally important for me that these images can be seen by the people of Brazil,” said Sue Cunningham, speaking at the official opening yesterday evening.

“I did not mount the exhibition so that people could just look at lovely pictures. I want people to really think about what they are looking at; examples of the strong and vibrant indigenous cultures of the original Brazilians, but cultures and people who are under ever-increasing threats from the alien society which surrounds them.”

The venue is important too. Designed to celebrate the indigenous people of Brazil by Oscar Niemeyer, and based on inspiration from the great Yanomami mallocas, the indigenous people were denied the use of the building for 17 years until 1999. Last year, Marcos Terena became its first indigenous co-ordinator, and the building is at last coming to life as a centre of indigenous culture.

On the Brazilian Day of the Indian, 19th April, a new technology centre was officially opened. Equipped with computers donated by the United Nations, it will bring young Indians into the centre to learn information technology skills.

The exhibition will continue until the 17th July.

Sue and Patrick Cunningham, on behalf of IPCST, would like to take this opportunity to extend our sincere thanks to HSBC, who have generously supported the staging of the exhibition, and to the British Embassy and Ambassador Peter Collecott for their support and encouragement. We also thank Marcos Terena and the many individuals, organisations and companies who have encouraged and supported us to make this exhibition a reality.

We constantly remember the great warmth and openness with which we were received by the 48 indigenous communities we visited during the expedition; they are the stars of the show, and this exhibition is for and about them. We hope that, in its small way, it will help them to support and maintain the rivers and forests of the Xingu basin, for the well-being of Brazil and for the good of the planet.

Hydroelectric Dams: The Indians Unite

In response to the Brazilian government’s stated objective of issuing a license for the construction of the Belo Monte dam in 2009, the Indians of the Xingu have united once again to confront the threat to their lives.

They are planning a large gathering of the tribes, to run from the 19th to the 23rd May. Over a thousand Indians will join with as many local people in the frontier town of Altamira to press the government to refuse permission for the construction of the dam. They will also use the opportunity to voice their objections to other smaller but no less controversial proposals to build hydroelectric plants on the headwaters and tributaries.Small Riverside Community on the Xingu

The Indians will run the gauntlet of gunmen hired by local landowners who stand to see the value of their land shoot up as the area becomes commercialised.

But they will not be prevented from staging a spectacular display of solidarity, resplendent in feathers and warpaint, as they argue their case.

In 1989, after a similar gathering, the government was forced to climb down when the World bank withdrew funding because of the environmental and social problems the dam will cause.

That was at the peak of interest in the environment. The 1989 gathering brought together Brazilian organisations, international charities, and celebrities, including Sting and the late (and much missed) Anita Roddick. Under the watchful gaze of the international media, the gunmen held back.

Altamira, Brazil. Sting with Chief Raoni at the Altamira conference against dams in Brazil.

There were supporters from many other countries. It was a turning point for Brazil, which was emerging from decades of military rule. New Brazilian organisations were forming, and Brazilians were beginning to stand up to the powerful establishment and its nefarious outer fringes, which inhabited the lawless Amazon.

Today, there are many Brazilians active in the fight to prevent the destruction of the Amazon forest. The Indians have organisations of their own, and are better prepared to take on the government. Now they can speak the government’s language, and they understand more of how the Brazilian world which encompasses theirs operates.

Altamira, Brazil. Group of Indian tribesmen with spears and bordunas in a ceremonial dance. Para State.

But it will not be an easy battle. Finance for the dam will come from Brazilian banks, raised on the back of the Government’s Programme of Accelerated Growth. This means that the international money which will be used is one removed from the project, and the ultimate providers of the funding may not know (or care) that their money is being used for a project which has already been condemned as an environmental, social and human disaster.

For more information see our Press Release about the protest meeting.

© Patrick Cunningham

Bad News 2: Soya Drives Massive Increase in Deforestation

This article is shocking. Rates of deforestation have quadrupled in the last three months, driven by rising soya prices on the international commodities markets.

An official from the institute which monitors deforestation for the Brazilian government is quoted as saying, “We’ve never before detected such a high deforestation rate at this time of year.”

Please consider making a donation to IPCST to support our work with the indigenous people of the Xingu. Click here.

Bad News 1: Cattle and the World Bank

This article in The Independent last week shows very clearly how difficult it is to fight against the forces destroying the Amazon rain forest.

 For anyone who doesn’t have time to read the whole thing, the following quote might make you think: “The new report estimates that the internationally funded expansion of Brazil’s beef industry was responsible for up to 12 billion tons of CO2 emissions over the past decade – an amount comparable to two years of emissions from the US.” This is not a small, peripheral problem. It is one which represents a huge threat to the entire population of the world – and in the front line of those under immediate threat are the tribal indigenous people of the Amazon.

Please consider making a donation to IPCST to support our work with the indigenous people of the Xingu. Click here.

The Heart of Brazil in The Independent

Today’s Independent newspaper, published nationally in the UK, features a double page spread on the expedition. The online version can be seen at: http://news.independent.co.uk/world/americas/article3047638.ece but it has no photos.

Altamira to Porto De Moz; Hydroelectric Potential 27th July 2007

Click here: www.ipcst.org/LastLeg to go to a slideshow of images relevant to this post. To return, simply close the slideshow window. The slideshow may take some time to load, especially if you have a slow internet connection.

Banner Protesting About the Proposed Belo Monte DamAltamira is one of the ten members of the Belo Monte Consortium, a group of municipalities supporting the construction of a huge hydroelectric dam close to Altamira by the national electricity generating company Eletronorte. At first glance, the dam seems to be a well-founded project which will bring benefits to the region, and to Brazil as a whole, while causing disruption only to a small number of people.

The project is part of the Brazilian government’s “Programa de Aceleração do Crescimento” (Accelerated Growth Programme), but has already run into a quagmire of legal challenges which threaten to derail the government’s stated target of completing the licensing procedure by the middle of 2008.

Core to the legal challenges is the mechanism for consulting the Indian communities which would be affected. According to a ruling of the Regional Federal Court (Tribunal Regional Federal), this is the direct responsibility of Congress, and cannot be carried out by IBAMA, the government environment agency which has already begun the process of defining the terms of the consultation, without an act of congress.

During the last part of the Heart of Brazil Expedition, all of the Indian villages and riverside communities (ribeirinhos) we visited, from before São Félix do Xingu to beyond Altamira, voiced strong opposition to the dam. They told us that they are planning a large protest meeting.

There are many questions hanging over the dam. Who exactly will benefit from the huge generating capacity which is proposed? There is no shortage of electricity in the region, and recent progress in solar panel technology promises to provide even rural properties with abundant power.

Reflected Clouds and RainforestThe nearby Tucurui dam generates abundant power during most of the year, and its capacity has recently been practically doubled by the completion of a second phase. But the main beneficiaries of Tucurui have been the private mining and metal corporations, which have negotiated very beneficial contracts which amount to the supply of subsidised electricity for their commercial activities.

The Tucurui site was recently occupied by people who were displaced by the construction of the dam over twenty years ago, who are still today fighting for adequate compensation.

Since the Xingu dries up substantially during the months from July to October each year, many question the technical viability of the project. A recently published book, titled Tenotã–mõ (which in the Arawete language means “What Has Started” (o que segue à frente, o que começa) explains that a second dam will be required to justify the existence of the first by keeping it supplied with water during the dry months, thereby allowing it to operate throughout the year. Eletronorte have not been straightforward in disclosing this. The second dam would flood fifteen times more land than the first, and affect many more of the indigenous and riverside (ribeirinho) people.

Questions remain about the amount of electricity which would be generated. Tucurui often operates at less than a third of its stated capacity. During the dry season, the dam may be unable to generate any electricity at all. Surely it would be more sensible to improve the operation of the existing generating capacity, rather than drowning so many more square kilometres of forest?

Even the environmental claims for this non-fossil fuel means of producing electricity are under question. The greenhouse gases produced by rotting vegetation will more than negate any benefits derived from not using fossil fuels to generate the same amount of electricity for at least the first 39 years!

The Coração do Brasil with ParrotFor the Indians, the effect of the two dams would be disastrous. Their entire lives would be disrupted, and they would have no alternative but to join the ‘money society’ to acquire everyday essentials including food, debasing and undermining the very core of their culture in the process, and making them dependent on outside assistance to maintain their lives.

Fishing in an open body of water is much more difficult than in a confined channel, and as fish is the main source of protein for the Indians, they would be unable to supply their basic dietary needs. They already have difficulty when the river is in full flood, and this would be drastically worsened by the dams.

The dams would transform the ecology of thousands of square kilometres of rain forest in unpredictable ways, changing the balance of species and even affecting the climate. The proponents of the dam use the uncertainty to mask the likely negative impacts. Even an independent social and environmental study is unlikely to identify all of the problems. Within the government’s stated time-scale, it is simply impossible to carry out an assessment which will do more than look at the most superficial effects of the proposal.

It is not clear from the very restricted amount of information available on the Eletronorte website whether the effects of climate change and the reduction in the flow of the river which will result from the proposed construction of six hydroelectric schemes on the headwaters of the Xingu river have been taken into account in the technical studies on which the proposal is based. All along the river, everybody, from Indians to fazendeiros, from caboclos to businesspeople in the towns, has been telling us about changes in the local climate.

There is now no room for doubt that the climate is changing, and changing very quickly. The local people report decreased rainfall during the months from October to December, and much hotter weather the whole year through. They report river levels much lower than before during the dry season, with the very low water levels which make river travel difficult arriving several weeks earlier.

Driving the Boat by Foot!It is possible that the Brazilian government may decide to override the rights of people living on the margins of the river and implement this proposal, claiming that it will benefit the people of Brazil as a whole. It seems that this claim is spurious, and that the only beneficiaries will be a small handful of powerful Brazilian and international corporations.

We passed the site of the first proposed dam on our way to Paquissamba. The village lies below the site, and the river at that point will be completely cut off, leaving the village high and dry, unable to fish and unable to use the river for transport.

Further downriver from the site of the dam we rejoined the river, having returned to Altamira to take the Coração do Brasil by road to Vitoria do Xingu for the last leg of the expedition.

The river here has the proportions of a lake. From Vitoria to Porto de Moz is a distance of 120 kilometres, and the river is over 10 kilometres wide for most of the distance. We encountered almost maritime conditions, our small boat repeatedly banging down on the waves, jarring our bones and blurring our vision.

This last journey in the Coração do Brasil was otherwise uneventful, so Sue and I had plenty of time to reflect on our experiences over the last four months. We have learned a huge amount during our travels, re-meeting old friends in some villages and making new ones in others.

Porto de MozAs we sped towards Porto de Moz, our final destination, we thought about the strength and vibrance of the indigenous cultures we had seen, and we reflected on the progress many ethnic groups have made towards self-determination.

We shed some tears for the villages where things are so much worse than they were, and we thought of the threats to the river and its people which are so powerful today, from the soya farms and hydroelectric schemes on the headwaters to the huge Belo Monte dam proposed so close to the mouth of the river.

We thought about what must be done to protect this river we have come to know so intimately, with its breathtaking vistas, its boiling rapids, its majestic curves, its vibrant forests and its remarkable people.

We realised that our journey, far from being over, is only just beginning.

Please consider making a donation to IPCST to support our work with the indigenous people of the Xingu. Click here.

LINKS:
Eletronorte: www.eln.gov.br
Eletronorte’s Belo Monte website: http://www.belomonte.gov.br/
International Rivers: http://www.internationalrivers.org/
Summary of Tenotã–mõ:
http://internationalrivers.org/en/latin-america/amazon-basin/xingu-river/tenot-m-executive-summary
– The full text of the book is available to download (in Portuguese) on this page (in six pdf files):
capa parte I parte II parte III parte IV parte V

Maps: vale do rio Xingu e barragens projetadas

© Patrick Cunningham