Ibama's President and the Jirau Follies

Roberto Messias Franco, President of Ibama
Roberto Messias Franco, President of Ibama
Valter Campanato, ABr

Work on Jirau, one of two dams being built on the Madeira River in the Brazilian Amazon, ground to a halt this week after its temporary construction license expired. Environmental authority Ibama had issued a provisional license to the Enersus consortium, led by Suez, so it could "take advantage of the hydrological window" to erect its coffer dam, and get the energy on-line a year sooner. It didn't work out that way. Enersus failed to build the initial structures on schedule, and now has to face the music and have a definitive license approved by Ibama. But, things haven't gone quite according to Enersus' plan.

Once again, Ibama's team of technical experts provided a stinging rebuke to the project, citing numerous mitigation measures the company had committed to undertaking, but which still existed only on paper. According to Ibama, 13 of the 32 conditions from the provisional license have not been met, including "studies of migratory fish and other physical, chemical, and biological flows necessary to determine the best design for the dam," a plan for mitigation of downstream impacts, a program to compensate fishermen for losses, a program for bird monitoring, and a program for preserving parrots and macaws affected by loss of their habitat.

Unfortunately, the reactions to this finding were all too predictable - Roberto Messias Franco, a journeyman environmental bureaucrat installed as head of Ibama by President Lula expressly to facilitate licensing of large infrastructure programs, assured the press that the license would be issued at any moment. Instead of addressing critical issues of biodiversity and the livelihood of tens of thousands of river bank dwellers, Messias Franco decided it was safer to take an engineer's approach, saying "There are only a few details left. It's like a house in construction, where when after all the work is ready, you still have to decide on its color or the type of doors it will have".

In fact, probably the only concrete issue preventing Messias Franco from whipping out his rubber licensing stamp is the fact that Rondônia state's governor is refusing to give permission for the dam until a compromise is made between Ibama and the state which the governor hopes would allow 3,000 squatters to remain in the Bom Futuro National Forest. The state needs to sign off on the license because part of a state nature reserve would be flooded by the dam.

Environmentalists have all but given up on Ibama. And now, all eyes are on Messias Franco who is apparently ready to sound the death knell for the Madeira River.