Brazil: Speaking Out About Hydroelectric Plants and the Amazon

This post is part of our special coverage Dossiê Belo Monte (Belo Monte Dossier) [pt] and Indigenous Rights.

[All links lead to sites in Portuguese, unless otherwise stated]

Aiming at generating electrical energy for residential and industrial consumption, the Brazilian government is constructing a series of hydroelectric powerplants in the Pantanal and Amazon areas, such as the Tapajós river power plant and the Teles Pires river power plant, among others.

According to the consortium Norte Energia, responsible for the construction of the controversial Belo Monte plant, energy consumption has been growing in the country and the power plant “is the guarantee that this demand can be met”, reinforcing the argument of development in the country.

Like the Belo Monte project, the São Luiz do Tapajós plant project (in the Tapajós river) and the Teles Pires plant project (in the Teles Pires river, which flows into the Tapajós river) have been challenged in court for failing to have adequately consulted local people and for misguided integrated environmental assessments. They have also been accused of carrying out deforestation and agricultural advancement.

Here you have the second part of our interview series with Sany Kalapalo [en], a young indigenous activist from Xingu.

Global Voices (GV): Considering the current challenges, how do you see the future of forests and the indigenous people that inhabit the Amazon area?

Sany Kalapalo (SK): Como sempre nós indígenas do Xingu falamos: “Homem Branco acha que é dono da natureza e pode fazer o que quiser com ela, mas uma hora a mãe natureza não aguentará mais e se vingará”.

O único interesse desses mega-corruptos de construir uma mega-usina como Belo Monte é dar lucro para as empresas iluminantes, ou seja os ricos ficarem mais ricos e os pobres ficarem mais pobres. Se o governo estivesse realmente interessado e preocupado com o desenvolvimento do país, implantaria redes de energia onde estão faltando e beneficiaria aquelas regiões que sofrem apagões. Nós, indígenas, não somos contra a energia em si, somos contra o projeto e a maneira como estão sendo desenvolvidas essas hidrelétricas, prejudicando o meio ambiente e os povos locais. Principalmente a hidroelétrica de Belo Monstro (Belo Monte), que afetará múltiplas famílias pobres e povos indígenas. Pra quê construir uma usina que só vai gerar eletricidade por duas estações do ano?, porque nas outras estações o rio Xingu costuma ficar na seca. Durante isso, como fica usina?? E como fica a eletricidade na sua casa ou na sua empresa?? Pense nisso. Brasil tem capacidade de gerar uma energia limpa e justa para o povo brasileiro. Sabe qual é futuro dos povos locais? Inundação, perda de casas, perda de plantações, perda de identidade, ou seja, perda de tudo e com certeza miséria na certa, e isso é o que o governo quer, [verdade] nua e crua.

Por isso que eu não chamo Belo Monte de Desenvolvimento, pois chamo de Sub-destruição ou total destruição, tanto para indígenas quanto para não indígenas, e para o meio ambiente.

Sany Kalapalo (SK): As we indigenous people from Xingu always say: “The White Man thinks he owns nature and can do whatever he wants to it, but there'll be a time when Mother Nature won't take it anymore and will retaliate.”

The only interest these mega-corrupt people have in constructing huge power plants such as Belo Monte is to generate profit for electricity companies, so the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. If the government was really interested and worried about the country's development, it would implant energy networks where they are missing; networks that would benefit those regions that are experiencing blackouts. We, the indigenous population, aren't against the energy itself, we are against the project and the way that these hydroelectrics are being developed, damaging the environment and local people. Especially the Belo Monster (Belo Monte) that will affect multiple poor families and indigenous people. Why construct a power plant that will only generate electricity two seasons of the year? For the other two seasons the Xingu river is usually dry. And what about the power plant? What about the electricity for them and the company? Think about it. Brazil has the capacity to generate clean and fair energy for the Brazilian people. Do you know what the future is for local people? Flooding, loss of homes, loss of crops, loss of identity… loss of everything, and misery for sure. That is what the government wants- that is the cold, hard [truth].

That's why I don't call it Developmental Belo Monte. I call it Sub-destruction or Total Destruction, both for indigenous people and non-indigenous people alike, not to mention the environment.

Jose Carlos Arara, the chief of the Arara tribe, discusses the negative impact of Belo Monte on the people who depend on the Xingu River for their livelihoods. Photo by K. L. Hoffmann copyright Demotix (August 13, 2011)

Jose Carlos Arara, the chief of the Arara tribe, discusses the negative impact of Belo Monte on the people who depend on the Xingu River for their livelihoods. Photo by K. L. Hoffmann copyright Demotix (August 13, 2011)

GV: National and international NGOs have been criticized as being “enemies of Brazil”. Members of the Xingu Vivo para Sempre Movement suffered from the same accusations. Which organizations do you think are doing a good job in the region?

SK: Conheço os idealizadores do Movimento Xingu Vivo para Sempre e os ativistas, inclusive são nossa principal parceria atualmente. Tenho ouvido muita coisa em relação ao Xingu Vivo. Na verdade, os governantes querem iludir e tentar persuadir o povo brasileiro dizendo que [eles] são inimigos do Brasil, e assim enxergar eles com os outros olhos, como invasores, e não levar em consideração o que eles reivindicam, que é proteger a natureza ao pedido dos índios, já que não somos ouvidos no nosso próprio país. Essa é a jogada do governo, sendo que o lobo mau de verdade são eles do Governo, que sempre querem tampar o olho do povo pra não ver o podridão que andam fazendo pelo país. E um movimento que está ativo desde o início de 2011 e que acordou Brasil para a luta de novo, em apoio ao movimento Xingu Vivo para Sempre, é o Indígenas em Ação (MIA).

SK: I know the creators and activists of the Xingu Vivo para Sempre Movement, who are also currently our main partners. I've been hearing a lot stuff about Xingu Vivo. Actually, the governors want to delude and try to persuade Brazilian people by saying that [they] are enemies of Brazil, and in this way make them see them differently, as invaders, and not taking their claims into account; that is that they want to protect nature at the request of the indigenous population, since our voices are not heard in our own country. This is what the government is doing, when they are the real “big bad wolves”; they always want to close people's eyes so that they don't see the mess that they have made in the country. Another movement, that has been active since early 2011 and woke Brazil up to fight again in support of the Xingu Vivo para Sempre movement, is the Indígenas em Ação Movement.

GV: Since 2011, the mobilization and court decisions have been successful in stopping the Belo Monte plant, but soon another court decision could authorize the resumption of work. Is it time to accept the plant construction as a fact or is it still worth fighting against it?

SK: Fico feliz que de 2011 pra cá a mobilização contra Belo Monte aumentou muito, acredito que por causa das grandes manifestações que organizamos e realizamos aqui em São Paulo pelo Movimento indígenas em Ação (MIA) com apoio do Xingu Vivo para Sempre, e por todo o Brasil, juntamente com o movimento Brasil pelas Florestas, que luta pela melhoria do novo Código Florestal. Nós indígenas estamos decididos a lutar, como sempre fizemos todo esse tempo. Se os construtores querem sangue do índio, vão ter. Se isso é o que o juiz branco quer, nos contrariar, o massacre de 512 anos vai continuar, sabe por quê? Os povos indígenas do Xingu não aceitam ser assassinos da natureza como esses governantes.

SK: I'm glad that since 2011 the mobilization against Belo Monte has increased a lot. I believe this is because of the huge protests we organized and carried out here in São Paulo for the Indígenas em Ação Movement with the support of the Xingu Vivo para Sempre movement, and indeed all over Brazil with the support of the Brasil pelas Florestas Movement, which fights for the improvement of the new Forest Code. We indigenous people are determined to fight, as we have done all this time. If the constructors want indigenous blood, they will have it. If this is what the white judge wants, to fight against us, the massacre that has lasted 512 years will continue, you know why? The indigenous people of Xingu don't accept being murderers of nature as these governors do.

On October 20, 2012, at 2 PM, a protest is planned against the Belo Monte hydroelectric power plant in front of the United Nations office in São Paulo. The goal is to ask for support from the UN for the problems related to the Xingu river.

This post is part of our special coverage Dossiê Belo Monte (Belo Monte Dossier) [pt] and Indigenous Rights.

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