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Brazil’s Belo Monte Dam Faces Renewed Protest in Europe
Street protests in Paris follow lively debate in European Parliament in Brussels
PARIS - November 15 - Brazil’s polemic Belo Monte Dam faced fresh protests in Europe this week marked by a Brussels conference where EU Green Party Parliamentarians and diverse dam opponents sparred with leading Brazilian government officials. Protest activities then shifted to Paris where today’s street demonstrations and public events led by Amazonian activist, Antonia Melo, denounce French and other European corporate interests backing Brazil’s Amazon dam-building boom. Convened by EU Green Party leaders Ulrike Lunacek of Austria and Eva Joly and Catherine Grèze of France after their fact-finding trip to the Brazilian Amazon in July, yesterday’s parliamentary conference entitled “Belo Monte Mega-Dam: The Amazon up for grabs?” elicited special attention from the office of Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff, whose Ambassador Vera Barrouin Machado exerted diplomatic pressure to demand the last-minute inclusion of top energy planner Mauricio Tolmasquim in the program, after having ignored earlier invitations. The Brazilian delegation also included João Pimentel, Director of Institutional Relations at Belo Monte’s Norte Energia consortium currently building the dam on the Amazon’s Xingu River.
While the Parliamentarians and dam opponents decried Belo Monte’s serious environmental and human rights impacts and flagrant illegalities, Brazilian government representatives maintained that the project is a model of sustainable development. The contentious debate reached a peak when Mr. Tolmasquim asserted: “Belo Monte is not only a dam, it’s a regional development program with benefits for the planet and humanity, but especially for local communities.”
“What sort of human rights are these?” asked Antonia Melo, coordinator of the Xingu Alive Forever Movement who lives in the affected city of Altamira. “All we see is disrespect of democracy and the rule of law while people are being driven from their homes with no compensation.”
Felicio Pontes, a Federal Public Prosecutor from the state of Pará, noted that 20 civil lawsuits have been filed since 2001 by his office (Ministério Público Federal) due to gross violations of human rights and environmental law in the licensing and construction of Belo Monte. “The only reason construction of Belo Monte continues is that a legal artifice dating back to the military dictatorship, known as “Suspensão de Segurança” (security suspension) allows chief justices of federal courts in Brazil, upon request from the central government, to unilaterally suspend decisions on lawsuits against violations of human rights and environmental legislation, invoking supposed threats to the country’s economic order.”
“A debate like the one organized today by the EU Greens in Brussels - bringing together grassroots activists, scientific experts, public prosecutors and federal government officials - has simply never happened in Brazil. The top brass of the Rousseff administration has consistently refused to participate in Congressional hearings and other public debate on violations of human rights and environmental legislation associated with Belo Monte," noted Brent Millikan of International Rivers. At the close of the session, Ms. Lunacek appealed to Brazilian government officials to find “better ways to deal with criticisms” regarding the serious social and environmental problems of Belo Monte.
Antonia Melo traveled to France today to denounce the French corporate interests behind Belo Monte and other Brazilian mega-dams under construction. Dozens of protestors joined her at the financial heart of Paris to rally outside the offices of Alstom, a key turbine supplier to Norte Energia, followed by actions in front of the headquarters of energy giants, GDF Suez and Energie de France (EDF) – companies implicated in notorious projects like the Jirau dam on the Madeira River and the Rousseff administration’s planned Tapajos Complex. While their harmful actions are relatively unknown among the French public, these corporate interests are eagerly seeking to reap profits off an unprecedented dam building boom that is ravaging rivers and communities across the Amazon, while publicity campaigns proclaim them as “cheap and clean energy.”
“Antonia brings the voice of affected communities to Paris today to raise public awareness on a critical issue,” said Christian Poirier of Amazon Watch. “We can no longer tolerate the rapacious profiteering of the global dam industry, which is complicit in crimes like Belo Monte.”
Protestors highlighted the major role of the French state in both GDF Suez and EDF, with public shareholdings of 36% and 84%, respectively. “Essentially the French taxpayer is helping to bankroll Amazon destruction,” asserted Gert-Peter Bruch of the French NGO Planète Amazone. “This fact is undoubtedly something the public would not support and why it is essential we bring home our message.”
While some observers claim that the Belo Monte polemic has faded as the dam’s construction has advanced, this week’s activities in the EU attest to a different reality. Critics of Belo Monte and other recent Amazonian dam projects are increasingly pressing for the Brazilian government (including the taxpayer-funded National Development Bank – BNDES) and corporate interests to be held accountable for the social and environmental dams caused by destructive projects. “The expansion of the model of dam construction witnessed in Belo Monte to other Amazonian Rivers such as the Tapajos, where an unprecedented cascade of dams are planned with direct involvement of GDF Suez and EDF, will likely only provoke more fierce criticism both at home and abroad” stated Christian Poirier of Amazon Watch.