Eye on the Amazon

From Brazil, European Greens Condemn Belo Monte

The Xingu River after being dammed

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Traveling from the EU Parliament in Brussels to the heart of the Amazon, deputies from Europe's Green Party immersed themselves in the toxic reality of the Brazilian government's misguided development model, and the role of European corporate profiteers abetting this model, that is exemplified by the Belo Monte dam and its devastating socio-environmental impacts upon the people of the Xingu River. After hearing about the flagrant human rights abuses and environmental destruction provoked by Belo Monte from members of the Xingu Alive Forever Movement (MXVPS) and Brazil's Federal Public Ministry (MPF) last April, Catherine Grèze and Eva Joly of France and Ulrike Lunacek of Austria traveled to Brazil to gain first-hand knowledge of the disaster unfolding in the Amazon.

While in Brasilia the Green Party leaders had meetings with representatives of Brazil's Ministries of Mines and Energy, Environment, and Foreign Relations, as well as the a spokesperson from the dam-building consortium Norte Energia. They also met with ambassadors from several European countries and members of local NGOs before continuing to the city of Belem where they encountered representatives of the MPF, who are responsible for the 17 lawsuits filed against Belo Monte, and members of the "Specialists Panel" who assessed the dam's myriad of impacts in the lead-up to its environmental licensing.

Deputies from Europe's Green Party who visited the Belo Monte Dam

The group then traveled to the city of Altamira, at the epicenter of the mega-dam's impacts, where they met with Bishop Dom Erwin Krautler, tireless defender of Xingu's peoples, and members of the MXVPS before visiting the region's affected communities. The delegation's Belo Monte Blog journals the their day to day activities in Brazil, including statements from local leaders and photos of their journey.

With the rights of Belo Monte's affected indigenous and traditional peoples as their primary concern, the delegates met with human rights lawyers and defenders, coming away with an understanding of the brutal injustices – and the blatant obstruction of justice – playing out on the banks of the Xingu River and across the Amazon as the Brazilian government presses forward with its reckless dam-building plans for the region.

In a letter to the Brazilian Ambassador to the European Union sent at the conclusion of their tour, the Green Parliamentarians asserted: "a project as big as Belo Monte cannot be constructed on a provisional legal basis and by the logic of fait accompli. The Supreme Court is currently shutting up judicial rulings on the basis of a law stemming from dictatorial times." This law, known as "security suspension" (suspensão de segurança) has been employed repeatedly by government lawyers to arbitrarily overrule injunctions that have halted Belo Monte's construction on ambiguous grounds of "national security", claiming that the country will fall into a blackouts and power shortages if the dam isn't built.

The letter goes on to cite a litany of social and environmental concerns stemming from the delegation's findings while offering a list of "possible remedies" to improve the dire conditions they encountered in Altamira, calling for the rule of law to be reinstated and for the Brazilian Supreme Court to urgently rule on the matter of indigenous consultation. It also cautions the Brazilian government against allowing itself to be "taken hostage" by the economic interests behind the dam, such as energy, mining and agroindustry, while urging the government to "engage into a serious discussion on what a sustainable and economic way of energy production in the 21st century should look like."

In a joint press conference held with the Para Society for Human Rights (SDDH) the European Greens stated: "The projected size, cost, and impacts [of Belo Monte] invite us to reflect upon the energy model that we want in order to preserve earth for the future. Underscoring that it is Brazilians who must decide on their own future, we deputies do not believe in the false dilemma between development and the defense of indigenous peoples."

Beyond their concern for the socio-environmental impacts of Brazil's dam-building agenda for the Amazon, Green delegates have voiced their alarm over the role of European companies and governments that are exploiting this destructive model by supplying crucial hardware, insurance services, and financing. In an article published before they visited Brazil the leaders wrote: "As European parliamentarians, we cannot ignore what is happening. This ecological catastrophe directly concerns us because we are implicated in this nonsense through European companies like Alstom and GDF Suez, who participate in the conception and the construction of these projects in spite of EU principles in terms of social and environmental responsibility."

The role of European companies in bringing this monstrous project to life is substantial: German insurers Munich Re and Allianz are underwriting 30% of the dam's risks while the companies Voith-Siemens (Germany) and Andritz (Austria) have joined Alstom (France) to cash in on a € 500 million (US$ 650 million) contract with dam-builders Norte Energia to supply turbines to the mega-dam, aiding and abetting this criminal enterprise. Critical voices from the EU's parliament will undoubtedly play an important role in pushing back against EU-based dam profiteers in the months to come. 

While acknowledging that the future of Brazil's development model lays clearly in the hands of Brazilians, European Greens and other conscientious international voices have a role and a responsibility to speak out against the catastrophe foretold by the expansion of mega-dams in the Amazon. As such, they ask: "What model of development can be promoted while a country's Constitution requiring consultation with affected indigenous peoples and the recognition of their land rights is trampled? This project [Belo Monte] and those that are planned must be stopped. Brazil has the resources to create a socially and environmentally sustainable development model that is profitable to all and respectful of rights and liberties, as well as indigenous territories."

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