Eye on the Amazon

Brazilians Denounce Dirty Belo Monte-Euro Connections

Protestors denounce Belo Monte's German backers outside of the Munich Re shareholder meeting last week. Photo credit: Melanie Meyer

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The social and environmental disaster currently being triggered by Brazil's Belo Monte dam on the Xingu River in the Brazilian Amazon has generated worldwide outrage, with its mounting polemic justifiably centered upon the mega-dam's Brazilian proponents, including the reckless government of President Dilma Rousseff. Yet little is known about the project's international benefactors, which are providing critical financial, logistical, and indeed political support to Belo Monte and Brazil's extensive dam-building agenda for the Amazon.

Last week two key leaders in the ongoing struggle against Belo Monte denounced European corporate backing of the dam before Green Party members of the European Parliament in Brussels, focusing on the strategic role of Germany's insurance industry in underwriting the dam's significant financial risks. Following the hearing, Verena Glass from the Xingu Alive Forever Movement (MXVPS) and Helena Palmquist from Brazil's Federal Public Ministry (MPF) traveled to Munich to attend the annual shareholder meeting (AGM) of German insurance giant Munich Re to denounce the company's callous responsibility in the destruction of the Xingu and its people. Munich Re alone is insuring 25% of Belo Monte's US$ 10 billion insurance costs, receiving over US$ 20 million for this service from the dam-building consortium Norte Energia.

"When we see the huge amount of interests that many European companies have there we cannot simply say that this is an internal project of the Brazilian government," declared Spanish EU Parliamentarian Raul Romeva after hearing testimonies from Verena and Helena in Brussels. "This is not a Brazilian debate. This is a worldwide debate and as part of the worldwide discussion we need to take part in this as well."

Verena and Helena traveled on invitation from a growing network of German NGOs involved in activism around Belo Monte including Counter Current, Center for Research and Documentation Chile-Latin America, Pro REGENWALD and Urgewald, among others. These groups prepared and signed onto a countermotion at Munich Re's AGM, accusing the company's Board and management of being "in breach of its own principles and guidelines" by "disregarding UN Guiding Principles and International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions" meaning it should therefore be held partly responsible for the myriad of human rights violations and environmental devastation being caused by the project.

Citing the dam's impacts upon indigenous people as "genocide" because it is destroying their means of survival and forcing eventual relocation from their riverside territories, Verena called upon the company's Board and shareholders to divest from the project telling them that "probably without knowing their severity [you] are taking part in these destructive processes. You are jointly responsible for the crimes committed by Belo Monte."

Helena followed Verena's intervention citing the 16 lawsuits filed by the MPF against Belo Monte since 2001 owing to the project's myriad and egregious legal violations. In her account she cited the absence of legally mandated consultations with affected indigenous peoples, incomplete and contradictory environmental impact studies, and Norte Energia's intentional negligence of socio-environmental safeguards as reasons for why she considers Belo Monte to be an "attack against the Brazilian Constitution."

Conveying the brutal reality of Belo Monte to European corporate boardrooms, political leaders, and an increasingly concerned European public of critical importance. The role of European companies in bringing this monstrous project to life is substantial: along with Munich Re, fellow German insurer Allianz is underwriting an additional 5% of the dam's risks. In addition, the companies Voith-Siemens (Germany), Andritz (Austria), and Alstom (France) are cashing in on a € 500 million (US$ 650 million) contract with Norte Energia to supply turbines to the mega-dam, aiding and abetting this criminal enterprise.

Additional European interests are profiteering off of Brazil's disastrous dam-building boom, such as French-Belgian energy giant GDF Suez and the Spanish energy company Iberdrola, which are behind everything from dam construction to actually writing the intentionally flawed environmental studies that legitimize these projects. The list goes on, demonstrating that while Belo Monte and the flood of new dams projected for the Amazon is an ill-advised scheme of Brazilian origin, its feasibility depends on a set of international proponents.

"We want to put light on this project to show all its contradictions and we want to support the legal services in Brazil that are fighting against them," said renowned French Green Party leader Eva Joly, who also categorized Belo Monte's impacts on indigenous people as "genocide." To act upon this intention, Joly and a commission of European Green Parliamentarians intend to travel to the Xingu this year to learn more about the project with the goal of holding a conference in Brussels to educate fellow leaders about the consequences of Belo Monte and the unacceptable role of European interests in the project.

High-level scrutiny of the international actors bolstering disastrous Amazon dams like Belo Monte is long overdue. The brave and ongoing advocacy of Verena Glass, Helena Palmquist, and their allies in Brazil and around the world is making sure that these actors will pay a growing price for profiteering off a poisonous and shortsighted development model that jeopardizes our collective future.

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