Madeira Dams the Elephant in the Room in Bolivia-Brazil Talks

Bolivian Chancellor Choquehuanca meets with Brazilian Minister Amorim
Bolivian Chancellor Choquehuanca meets with Brazilian Minister Amorim
On his visit to Brasília yesterday to meet with Brazilian Foreign Relations Minister Celso Amorim, Bolivian Chancellor David Choquehuanca kept a tight lip regarding his country's ongoing objections to the dams Brazil is building on the Madeira River, even as he signed accords on a mother's milk bank and other cooperation pacts.

There are reports that Bolivia rejected the terms of an agreement between the two countries regarding the Santo Antonio and Jirau dams, which would have been signed yesterday, instead reiterating their "concern" regarding the impacts of the dams. Under the agreement, Brazil would have agreed to monitor the level of Jirau Dam in order to try to avoid flooding Bolivia, and a joint monitoring team would have been set up after the dams were built to determine the dams' impacts on fishing along the Madeira system. Bolivia's position has been that the dams will have significant impacts on their territory and natural resources, and on the health of their communities, and that Brazil should halt dam construction until broader studies on the projects' impacts are undertaken. The EIAs for the dams failed to analyze potential impacts on Bolivia.

In an interview with the EFE news agency, Bolivia's Vice-Minister of the Environment, Juan Pablo Ramos said "we've now gone from reasonable doubt to certainty" regarding concerns over environmental and health impacts of the dams. Ramos said that Bolivia delivered new studies to Brazil during yesterday's meeting.

Meanwhile, President Lula visited the Madeira dam work sites yesterday, and characterized the Madeira projects as being "like a son" to him, "born out of a complicated pregnancy". Responding to concerns that the 2,350 km-long power line corridor that would be built to transport the energy to demand centers in southeastern Brazil will mean the benefits will be concentrated outside of the region, Lula said Brazil would have a "communist power line" taking the energy wherever it was needed.

River bank populations affected by the dams wrote a letter to Lula, in which they tell their president, "We no longer have the right to come and go on the Madeira River which always gave us Life. Now, those of us who live near the Santo Antonio and Jirau rapids are at the mercy of the companies, who control our lives. Our relatives and friends cannot get to our homes without their permission...  They're killing our history, destroying our rights as Peoples of the Forest".