Friday, February 26, 2010

Belo Monte: The triumphant return of military dictatorship?

Leonardo Boff's weekly columns are available in Spanish from Servicios Koinonia. Some of his older columns are available in English at

by Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)

The Lula government has undeniable merits in the social field. But on environmental issues, it is glaringly unaware and backward. Analyzing the Growth Acceleration Program (PAC), we feel we are back in the nineteenth century. It's the same mentality that sees nature as a mere pool of resources, as a basis for programming pharaonic projects, carried out by blood and fire, within a model of excessive growth that favors large corporations at the expense of the depredation of nature and the creation of much poverty.

This model is being challenged all over the world because it destabilizes the Earth as a whole, and yet it is assumed by the PAC, without any qualms. The discussion with the affected populations and society was ridiculous. Authoritarian logic prevails: first the decision is made, then the public hearing is convened. Well, this is exactly what is happening with the proposed construction of the Belo Monte Hydroelectric Plant on the Xingu River in the state of Para, Brazil.

Everything is being rushed along, trampling processes, concealing the important 114/09 opinion of December 2009, issued by IBAMA (the organ that takes care of environmental issues) against the construction of the plant as well as the opinion of most national and international environmentalists, who say the project is a serious mistake, with unforeseeable environmental consequences.

The Ministério Público Federal (General Prosecutor's Office), that set embargo processes in motion, eventually bringing the issue to international forums, was threatened with prosecution of attorneys and promoters of these actions for abuse of power by the Attorney General of the Union (AGU), with the public support of the President.

This project comes from the military dictatorship of the 70s. Under pressure from the indigenous people backed by the singer Sting in collaboration with chief Raoni, it was shelved in 1989. Now, with the advance license issued on February 1st, the project of the dictatorship can return triumphantly, presented by the Government as the greatest work of the PAC.

This project is all megalomania: flooding of 51,600 ha. of jungle, with a water surface of 516 km2, diversion of the river with the construction of two channels 500 m wide and 30 km long, leaving 100 km of dry riverbed, submerging the most beautiful part of the Xingu, Volta Grande and a third of Altamira, at a cost of 17 to 30 billion reales, displacing about 20 thousand people, and attracting about 80 thousand workers, to produce 11,233 MW of power in times of flooding (4 months) and only 4,000 MW the rest of the year, and finally, transporting it up to 5 thousand km away ...

This colossus, typical of technocratic minds, borders on insanity, since, given the planetary environmental crisis, all recommend smaller works, evaluating alternative energy matrices based on water, wind, sun and biomass. In Brazil we have all that in abundance. Considering the opinions of experts, we can say the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant is technically unadvisable, overly expensive, environmentally disastrous, socially perverse, disturbing to the Amazon forest, and a serious assault on the Earth system.

This project is characterized by a lack of respect of the the dozens of indigenous groups that have lived there for thousands of years and have never even been listened to; the lack of respect for the Amazon forest, whose vocation is not to produce electricity, but natural goods and services of high economic value; lack of respect for ecological awareness that, because of threats that weigh upon the system of life, calls for extreme caution in the forests; lack of respect for the Common Good of the Earth and Humanity, the new center point of global policies.

Were there a World Tribunal on Crimes Against the Earth - like the one being proposed by a highly qualified group that is studying the reinvention of the UN under the leadership of Miguel D'Escoto, president of the Assembly (2008-2009) - surely the promoters the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant would be in the sights of that tribunal.

There is still time to halt the construction of this monstrosity, because there are better alternatives. We do not want the words of Bishop Dom Erwin Kräutler, defender of the indigenous and an opponent of Belo Monte to come true: "Lula will go down in history as the great depredator of the Amazon and the burier of the indigenous and coastal peoples of the Xingu."

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