MAC: Mines and Communities


Published by MAC on 2007-05-28


Social impacts date back to displacement of populations in Tucuruí

By Carlos Mendes, O Liberal

28th May 2007

Centrais Elétricas do Norte (Eletronorte) had to displace some 32,000 farmer and riverbank dweller families in order to flood the 2.430 square kilometers of forest that created the world's second largest man-made lake in Tucuruí. The environmental damage that this caused has never been measured. The social impacts are still felt today. The invasion of the power plant on Wednesday morning by 600 members of the Movement of Populations Affected by Dams (MAB), Via Campesina, the Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST) and other groups was a repercussion of those impacts.

The protest regarding payment of compensation to those who were harmed by construction of the plant - renewed each year and stalled by Eletronorte - in addition to other demands such as construction of schools, health clinics, establishment of land reform settlements and paving of roads in the region that are currently impassable, seem to have become part of a stressful routine.

What had become a normal part of the reality of the troubled town of Tucuruí - demonstrations always ending in shouts and chants of protest in front of the gates of Eletronorte against the historical omission of the federal government in addressing the simple demands of expropriated rural folk even of their rights - suddenly became a weapon in the hands of the leaders of the movement.

On the eve of the occupation, they were informed that the security scheme to protect the hydro plant from any type of invasion was quite feeble, especially at night. The plan to occupy the facilities of the largest fully Brazilian power plant was prepared with high expectations of being successful. At the time of the invasion, in the early morning, the few guards that secured the entrance were taken by surprise by the arrival of 600 people. Some of the furious activists who were in the midst of the crowd knew how to frighten the guards. While activists were pushing against the front gate to knock it down, a member of the movement threw an incendiary device. It was the signal to immediately occupy the area.

Two days later, while leaving the plant with an expression of victory on his face, one of the activists summarized the success of the invasion with a phrase: 'Now the government will learn to respect us'. From the look of things, it hasn't learned nor will it very quickly. Just as in the case of the murder of missionary Dorothy Stang, two years ago in Anapu, any measures, if taken, are too little too late. While Sister Dorothy was being laid to rest, troops of the Army, Air Force, Federal Police and local police searched for the perpetrators throughout the region, promising to make the dream of land reform and sustainable development of the forest a reality. Ministers gave interviews all the time, extolling the nun's virtues, her courage and other hypocrisies of those apparently with guilty consciences for not having avoided the death threats against her from being carried out.

Last week in Tucuruí, less than 24 hours after the activists who had even planned to defend themselves with incendiary bombs from any effort of the Army to remove them had left the facilities, the timid presence of federal government agents clearly demonstrated that Brasilia cares nothing for those displaced by the dam. If it were at all concerned, it wouldn't have delegated the mission of negotiating the peaceful removal of the trespassers to the Army. One has to give kudos to the Army, though, in this respect, as it demonstrated the competence lacking in the government to negotiate with the demonstrators. The problems on the negotiating table between the government, Movement of Populations Affected by Dams (MAB) and the Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST) are simple and could easily be resolved. It would just require the mobilization of a few federal ministries and agencies.

Inpa reiterates the continuation of negative effects

A study conducted by the National Research Institute of Amazonia (Inpa) indicates the social and environmental consequences of the Tucuruí hydroelectric plant have been and continue to be negative and harmful. To name a few: displacement of the population in the flooded area and subsequent relocation due to an epidemic of Mansonia mosquitoes; the disappearance of fish that had traditionally sustained the population downstream from the dam; effects on health from malaria and mercury contamination; and the displacement and disturbances of the Parakanã, Pucuruí and Montanha indigenous groups.

Almost two-thirds of the energy produced at Tucuruí is used to supply the aluminum industry. The families that live on the islands formed by the power plant's lake, however, are still without electricity, some 20 years after the construction of the dam. The meeting among affected populations, landless farmers and smallholders with the government rekindled hopes for a solution to the problems resulting from the current Brazilian energy model, according to the Movement of Populations Affected by Dams (MAB). The organization showed that the energy model based on hydro production is used in 20% of all energy produced worldwide. This form of energy production has already expelled between 40 and 80 million people from their lands worldwide. In Brazil, 92% of produced energy comes from hydro power, and has expelled over 1 million people from their lands. Brazil has over 2,000 dams built in several states, flooding an area of 34,000 square kilometers.

The country currently uses 61,000 MW (25%) of its estimated 260,300 MW potential. Almost two-thirds of this potential (63.6%) is in the Amazon Region, especially on the Tocantins, Araguaia, Xingu and Tapajós rivers, where environmental impacts and transmission costs are high. Another 20% of this potential is in the south, in the Paraná and Uruguay River basins, where it would impact densely populated areas and would render fertile farmland useless. The 2015 Plan of the federal government includes the construction of an additional 494 hydroelectric plants, with the eviction of an estimated 800,000 people from their lands. 'Hydroelectric power generation has been held to be clean and cheap. But, the dams cause several environmental problems in addition to all of the economic and social destruction they provoke', says MAB.

For example, the trees that remain in the lake formed by the dam decompose. The rotting of organic material leaves submerged tree trunks that endanger navigation and emits large amounts of greenhouse gases such as methane and CO2, responsible for global warming. This is what has happened at power plant reservoirs built in the Amazon Region, such as Tucuruí (PA), Balbina (AM) and Samuel (RO).

From these examples, if all of the dams planned for Amazonia are built, estimates are that some 231 million tons of carbon dioxide will be emitted each year. This volume corresponds to 75% or three-quarters of the total net emissions of CO2 gas for the year 1999 that came from burning of fossil fuels - oil, coal and natural gas, in addition to firewood and charcoal from native forests.

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