The construction of Brazilian mega-projects in watersheds stopped after environmental detriment
Leer en Español: Brasil: Se secaron el “Lava Jato” y las megapresas
In a surprising statement, the center-right government, led by Michel Temer, through the executive secretary of the Ministry of Mines and Energy, announced the end of the construction of more mega dams in the Amazon basin in the South American country.
With this important turn, Brazil's energy matrix is rethought and the government's responsibilities are confronted with the social sensitivities and the environmental detriment represented by the construction of these mega Works, that were considered in the past as "clean energy". This concept was revalued by some sectors demonstrating the serious environmental impact caused in the basins of the rivers that supply energy to the country.
After millions of hectares of forests were deforested in Latin America, water basins were over sedimented, and billions of tons of concrete were dumped to build dams in rivers, Brazil adopted this measure. For some social sectors, the decision responds to requests and demands from environmental groups, the popular and indigenous communities indignation that opposed to the flooding of tens of thousands of hectares in their territories.
However, it is presumed that the apogee of the construction of mega works in the previous governments of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff was due to the need that the Workers Party had to deliver mega works to companies like Odebrecht. The company gave huge sums of money to their political campaigns.
As the 'Lava Jato' dried up and the political landscape of Brazil changed, with the privatization of Eletrobras, the country was forced to rethink the possibility of focusing its energy production on wind, solar or hydroelectric projects of very small scale and more close to consumer sites.
One of the projects that produced the most controversy in Brazil was Belo Monte, the fourth largest hydroelectric project in the world. The Project blocked the Xingu River, one of the most important tributaries of the Amazon with an extension of approximately 1,600 kilometers. As a consequence, 670 km2 of forests were submerged under the waters of this immense reservoir causing serious impacts to the ecosystem in which there are more of 500 species of fish, some of them endemic to the region and of course with serious social effects with more than 20 thousand people subjected to forced displacement.
Of course, in the construction of this mega project, the questioned Odebrecht company throughout Latin America had direct interference. Its bribes led to the imprisonment of its main executives and several politicians from different Latin American and Caribbean countries, such as, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Peru, and of course Brazil.
In Chile one of the most questioned projects was Ralco in the province of 'Bio Bio'. It was put into operation in 2004 and operated by Endesa after six years of construction. The construction produced during a decade all sorts of social conflicts with the Pehuenche population that inhabited the area.
The social conflicts that generated the construction of this dam and the flooding of ancestrally indigenous territories, were responsables of cases of false accusations of terrorism to indigenous activists in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. This forced the Chilean government to retract the accusations and compensate several leaders Mapuches, like the recognized leader Víctor Ancalaf.
In Colombia, the construction of these mega works has several examples of conflicts generated by the multinationals and the permissiveness of the state. However, perhaps one of the most renowned was the El Quimbo Hydroelectric Project in Huila, which dammed the Magdalena River, the main tributary of the South American country.
There were more than 8,500 hectares flooded by the company Emgesa, from the same Italian and Spanish group ENEL, to which the Chilean Endesa belongs. For this dam to enter into operation, it depended on the reduction of the environmental obligations contained in the license delivered by the environmental authority, ANLA, in Colombia.
Throughout Latin America, this type of project has suffered the resistance of the communities that are affected by its construction and the forced displacement that is exerted on some populations, the environmental deterioration and the imbalance in the ecosystems.
The storm of protests in Brazil intensified in 2016, when hundreds of popular and indigenous demonstrations suspended the construction of a hydroelectric project on the Tapajos River. That project would have flooded part of the territory of the Munduruku community of Sawre-Muybu.
Nevertheless, the government never officially canceled the construction license of this mega work; for that reason, the communities have feared for a long time the continuation of this construction.
In view of the global trend for the generation of clean energies through wind, tidal, solar, and geothermal generators, as well as the decentralization of electricity generation, and finally, when Odebrecht's Lava Jato dries up, there is no alternative but to rethink the matrix of energy production for both Brazil and the rest of the planet.
LatinAmerican Post | Alberto Castaño
Copy edited by Marcela Peñaloza