Brazilian Delegates Recount Struggles Against Dams at Rivers for Life 3

Zachary Hurwitz
Remnants of Arcediano Dam on the Santiago River in Mexico, Cancelled by Local Efforts
Remnants of Arcediano Dam on the Santiago River in Mexico, Cancelled by Local Efforts
Leila Salazar-Lopez

I've just returned from the Rivers for Life 3 meeting at Temacapulín, Mexico, where 300 delegates from across the world joined to learn from each others' experiences in campaigning against hydroelectric dams, and to share strategies in building energy and water alternatives. The story of Temacapulín is eerily similar to that of the Belo Monte Dam: government neglect, no free, prior, and informed consent, and local officials who are desperately working with local residents to stop a horrendous project. 

Though the ecology and the impacts are different-- the massive Zapotillo dam would flood the entire town of Temacapulín out of existence, while Belo Monte dam would dry out a 100km stretch in addition to causing extensive flooding-- both projects will force people to move away from their homes against their will, left to wonder if compensation will arrive.

The broken promises even sound the same: the Governor of Jalisco swore that Zapotillo would not be built if at least 50% +1 person of the local population were opposed to its construction.  Lula, similarly, swore not to "shove Belo Monte down anyone's throats," a promise he could not keep.

It was in this sense that the Brazilian delegates to Rivers for Life 3 shared their experiences in fighting against dams in Brazil, and especially against Belo Monte.  

Delegates shared their concerns about the weak socio-environmental safeguards attached to national development bank BNDES' increasing portfolio of loans for polemical hydro projects.  Together with Brazilian para-statal electric utility Eletrobras, BNDES seeks to expand its participation in hydro across the Amazon basin and abroad, but still counts on a weak socio-environmental policy framework to guide its loans, and lacks the transparency that would prevent campaign contributions and pork from heavily influencing whether or not a project is given the green light.

The town of Temacapulín, Mexico, to be completely flooded underwater if the Zapotillo Dam were built
The town of Temacapulín, Mexico, to be completely flooded underwater if the Zapotillo Dam were built
International Rivers

Delegates told the story of Santo Antônio and Jirau, two massive dams underway on the Madeira River.  One member of Brazil's Dam-Affected People Movement told how, on a day before construction began on Santo Antônio, she saw one of the project managers walking through a nearby settlement pointing, and overheard him admitting to another of the project's workers that he was excited to see so many local young girls who could serve as prostitutes.

Delegates from the Movimento Xingu Vivo Para Sempre and COIAB told of their concerns about the impacts of the Belo Monte Dam Complex on indigenous people.  They spoke of the wild rapids, of the innumerable fish species that their families depend on which would disappear when the river is diverted away into a reservoir, and of the breadth of the Xingu, a sea among rivers, itself a subject in the stories of their families.  They spoke of how the government did not properly consult indigenous people that live on the Xingu, which is required by the Brazilian Constitution for any infrastructure project that would affect them.  Above all, they spoke of a love for their lands, which their families have lived on and used for generations.

And a delegate from the Movimento Tapajós Vivo warned of the impacts of the Tapajós Complex, seven run-of-the-river dams on the Tapajós and Jamanxim rivers that will flood huge swaths of federally protected areas and directly impact the Munduruku indigenous territory, while possibly opening a massive industrial waterway to ship agroindustrial soy, corn, and large mineral extracts out to the Atlantic Ocean.  

300 delegates from 61 countries came to the meeting in the small town of Temacapulín; yet their stories were all the same.  What each of them wanted was a river that brought life, not death.  It was only the stories of people like Maria Guadalupe Lara Lara, who was the last to stay at her home on the heavily-polluted Santiago River nearby Temacapulín, who refused to give in to the offers to buy her property, and who finally forced authorities to withdraw from building the nearby Arcediano Dam, that were different.  Stories like hers brought hope that, in Brazil, as in Temacapulín, there was another way.  

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