A Cry from the Heart of Pan Amazonia
December 12, 2012 | Christian Poirier
Last month the sixth Pan Amazon Social Forum (FSPA) brought together hundreds of community leaders, academics, and NGO representatives from across the Amazon to discuss and debate common challenges and forge collaborative solutions for a socially and environmentally sustainable future. Held in the small Bolivian city of Cobija at the Amazonian crossroads of Pando, Bolivia, with Acre, Brazil and Madre de Dios, Peru, the Forum converged diverse voices that endeavored to speak as one, seeking "Unity of Pan-Amazon peoples to transform the world."
The Forum took place as threats to the Amazon's indigenous and traditional communities have dangerously escalated, with the combination of predatory extractive industry and massive infrastructure projects placing enormous pressure on the fragile ecosystems these communities call home. Geopolitics were at the center of this gathering, casting the region's emerging hegemon under scrutiny: Brazil's growing economic and political clout has empowered the country to spread its expansionist development model to its Amazonian neighbors, exporting with it a spate of unacceptable social and environmental problems.
The FSPA came on the heels of the release of a record-setting R$22.5 billion (US$10.8 billion) loan by Brazil's National Development Bank (BNDES) for the Belo Monte dam, setting a precedent that also spells disaster for Bolivian and Peruvian communities faced with the construction of major dam and road projects by BNDES-financed Brazilian companies. As such, BNDES took center stage at the Forum as the key financial instrument enacting destructive Brazilian foreign economic policy in the Amazon.
At an event co-organized by the "Four Rivers Alliance" and Amazon Watch, participants presented the deleterious impacts of dam projects on the Madeira, Xingu, Teles-Pires Rivers, all of which have fallen victim to the Brazilian government's perverse dam-building boom, while exposing a parallel and imminent threat to the Tapajos River basin. An examination of BNDES' common role in all of these dams closed the event, given that none of these projects could exist without the bank's generous and publically subsidized loans to cover the majority of their costs.
Beyond Brazil, BNDES financing threatens to cut a major road through the TIPNIS indigenous territory and environmental preserve in Bolivia despite the fierce resistance of local communities. In partnership with Amazon Watch, representatives from TIPNIS attended at the Forum to remind allies that their struggle continues against the Bolivian government's new plans to push forward with the project. Other participants denounced Brazilian plans to dam wild rivers across the Bolivian and Peruvian Amazon, importing energy to Brazil while leaving behind a legacy of human rights violations and environmental destruction in their wake.
In response to the Belo Monte loan, and the signal it sends to peoples across the Amazon, the diverse organizations present at the Forum rallied behind the Movimento Xingu Vivo Para Sempre and backed its letter to BNDES President Luciano Coutinho calling for the immediate cancelation of the mega-loan. In doing so, dozens of Bolivian, Peruvian, Colombian, and Ecuadorian organizations joined their Brazilian and international allies to call on BNDES and the Brazilian government to halt its escalating attack on the Amazon's peoples, rivers, and forests.
Another important text emerged from the "Four Rivers" gathering at the FSPA: the "Declaration of the Pan-Amazonian Rivers Alliance" details the myriad of socio-environmental impacts caused by the rush to dam the region's rivers and exposes the gross injustices associated with these projects as they flaunt both local and international law while giving rise to drastic human rights violations.
Finally, the "Letter from Cobija" was adopted through consensus in the Forum's closing plenary, summarizing ways the assembled Pan Amazonian representatives are endeavoring to resist the growing assault on their territories and their ways of life while affirming that there is another way.
A smaller, regional version of the global World Social Forum, the Pan Amazon Social Forum also aims to demonstrate that "Another World is Possible" or "Another Amazon is Possible." Yet it will only become possible by taking steps to forge unity among the Amazon's embattled communities, empowering them to push back against a short-sighted and erroneous development model and transform it with healthy alternatives that balance development with a maximum respect for the rights of nature and of future generations.