The Darkest Stain on Marina Silva's Record

In the second part of my interview, I talk about irregularities in the Madeira River dams licensing process, and why I feel there is still a chance to halt projects planned for the Madeira and Xingu.

Q - How do you view the government's actions to construct dams on the Madeira River and Belo Monte on the Xingu?

Glenn Switkes - The licensing process for the Madeira dams was one of the greatest scandals in the recent history of natural resource management in Brazil. All available technical information, Ibama, and the Environment Ministry indicated the project would cause huge, irreversible impacts, and the viability of the projects was in question. Ibama's technical experts prepared a document of more than 200 pages recommending that the projects be rejected. This is one of the darkest stains in Marina Silva's record, because she simply followed orders from Lula, approving the project in a highly irregular manner. She got rid of the licensing director of Ibama and brought in someone willing to pull the switch, and then dismantled Ibama. She bought, so to speak, some very fragile technical arguments regarding sedimentation and gave the projects the go-ahead. Until today, Marina continues to try to justify the actions she took. Meanwhile, the projects still face some difficulties. Santo Antonio Dam has an awful mitigation plan, and Ibama still has to analyze this before granting a construction license. Suez won the auction for Jirau, and simply changed the location of the dam, after the project was analyzed for several years. So, I think there will be more legal challenges to the projects. It´s possible the projects will suffer delays, affecting their economic feasibility, and I hope that the legal system will have the courage to recognize the irregularities in this process and bring it to a halt.

Q - So, you think it's still possible to stop the dams?

Glenn Switkes - I hope so. There are various groups working toward this objective. In the case of the Madeira River dams, it's complicated because so much water has run under the bridge already, and options for citizens to take are limited. But, in the case of Belo Monte, it's a different story, because indigenous peoples would be directly affected. The Kayapó and other indigenous peoples in Altamira made it clear that they are concerned about the impacts of Belo Monte on the river basin level, despite the fact that the electric sector has concocted the fiction that hydroelectric dams affect only the lands they flood. That´s not true. Belo Monte brings constitutional issues into play, in terms of guarantees of indigenous rights, as well as economic questions, because there is no assurance that it will be able to generate energy without building reservoirs upstream. So, it could face various problems ahead.

Q - Why do you think the government pushed for approval of these hydroelectric dams?

Glenn Switkes - There are powerful interests behind these projects. For example, dams are being proposed in the eastern Amazon, and there are electro-intensive industries, such as aluminum foundries, and metals processing plants that are aiming to expand their capacity and need subsidized electricity.