For a sustainable coexistence with the Amazon

The Amazon is one of the richest biomes in the world and occupies more than 5 million square kilometers in 9 South American countries. It concentrates large areas and a rich diversity of plants and animals, large mineral reserves, large rivers, streams and lakes.

The indiscriminate exploitation in this territory has caused innumerable impacts to its social, environmental and cultural patrimony. The region has been threatened by a variety of predatory economic practices such as mining, large-scale logging, large scale livestock breeding, soybean plantations, and infrastructure projects such as waterways, railroads, ports and hydroelectric dams. These projects resulted in the destruction of fauna and flora, contamination of soils and water, loss of biodiversity, expulsion of traditional populations, extinction of large reserves of natural resources.

 Photo boats on the Xingu river

Photo: Guilherme Lima

According to a research published by the journal Nature, there are more than 500 dams planned for the Amazon basin. The effect of these works, of which 140 are already built, has disastrous potential to the ecosystem, by altering the sedimentation regime of the Amazon River. 

In the last decade, the Brazilian Amazon had once again been the scenario for the construction of large hydroelectric dams, like what happened during the dictatorship. The new Amazon dams - Jirau and Santo Antônio, in the state of Rondônia, Belo Monte, in the state of Pará, Teles Pires and São Manuel in the state of Mato Grosso - repeat the same authoritarian way of construction of their predecessors Tucuruí (state of Pará), Balbina (state of Amapa) and Samuel (state of Rondônia). They are all examples of environmental destruction and violation of human rights.


The example of how disastrous a dam construction can be is the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam, built on the Xingu River. After decades of resistance, the hydroelectric plant was built and it is operating, leaving a trail of human rights violations recognized by the National Human Rights Council, which has been on mission twice in the region. The conditions for the operation of the dam did not keep pace with the work. The sanitation, scheduled to be completed in 2011, is still being implemented. More than 50 thousand people are affected by Belo Monte's dam. Two thousand people are still in process at the federal public defender to claim for their rights. And over 500 families affected are still not recognized as affected by the dam, who are living in very precarious conditions. Besides, Belo Monte dam transformed the small town of Altamira into the most violent municipality in Brazil.

Photo of Belo Monte Dam

Photo: Guilherme Weimann

The same region is the focus of greed of the Canadian company Belo Sun Mining. The company wants to withdraw 108 tons of ore and profit R $ 3.3 billion (US$ 1 billion) over the next 17 years in Brazil's largest open-mine gold project. The work will impact the Volta Grande do Xingu, 100 km of river from which up to 80% of the water was diverted to feed the turbines of Belo Monte hydro-plant. The company obtained the installation license this year and already committed irregularities: banned the traditional self-employed small miners, present in the region for more than 40 years, from exercising its activity. And, according to INCRA (Brazilian Institute for Agrarian Reform and Colonization), Belo Sun is buying land in the region that is intended for agrarian reform. Belo Sun also did not consider in its study the impact on the indigenous peoples neighboring the work: the Arara and Juruna ethnic groups.


The next frontier of these major projects is the Tapajós region, one of the most preserved in the Amazon, where 40 hydroelectric plants are foreseen. Last year, the environmental license for the largest of them, São Luiz do Tapajós, with 8,040 MW of power, was canceled. However, other projects for the river are not discarded. 

In addition, there are a number of infrastructure projects planned for the Tapajós region, seen as a corridor for the Mato Grosso soybean runoff for export by a shorter route than by the southeastern ports. The main one is the Teles Pires-Tapajós waterway, which the agribusiness sector pressed for to be built without the complete environmental licensing process. The work must bring a series of impacts to the river, such as the destruction of rocks and waterfalls, diversions and dredging, profoundly impacting aquatic life, the survival of riverside people and destroying sacred sites for indigenous people.

With Michel Temer's coupist government, this scenario of destruction is aggravated. Still in the Tapajós region, the government intends to reduce 350,000 hectares of the National Forest of Jamanxim, pardoning land-grabbers, specifically those who obtained the land with forged documentation, who occupied the region and setting precedents for further invasions.

Photo children playing from Tapajos

Photo: Guilherme Lima


Another strategic area of the Amazon should be delivered. On April 7, the Federal Government authorized the delivery of the National Reserve of Copper and Related (RENCA by its Portuguese acronym), on the border between the states of Amapá and Pará, for purposes of mineral extraction. The area may contain one of the largest gold reserves in the world. It embraces part of two Indigenous Territories (Paru and Waiãpy), two Conservation Units (Mountains of Tumucumaqui National Park and Ecological Station of Jari) and includes four INCRA’s settlement projects (Maraca, Munguba, Pedra Branca and Perimetral).


With projects with this potential of destruction, in addition to the predatory extraction of wood, land grabbing and large-scale cattle ranching, it is not surprising that the Amazon is the scene of numerous conflicts. In this unequal struggle, large farmers, land-grabbers and entrepreneurs often rely on the impunity and support of the State's repressive apparatus. According to the NGO Global Witness, Brazil is the country that has the largest number of killings of environmental defenders (49 murders of 200 reported worldwide) in 2016. The majority of the victims are in the Amazon.


We draw attention to the case of Nilce de Souza Magalhães, nicknamed Nicinha, a MAB (Movement of People Affected by Dams) activist who denounced the violence practiced in the construction of the Jirau hydroelectric plant (in the state of Rondônia), who was assassinated in January 2016, in circumstances not yet fully clarified.

The state of Rondônia, in fact, is the champion for killing human rights defenders, according the Brazilian Committee of Human Rights Defenders survey. In 2016, out of 66 human rights defenders killed in the country, 19 were from Rondônia. It is also the first in the ranking of deaths in agrarian conflicts, according to the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT by its Portuguese acronym). In the midst of this situation, two MAB members, leaders of the struggle for the rights of people affected by dams, had to flee their homes and hide from threats.

Two visions on the Amazon

We consider that there are two antagonistic ways of viewing the Amazon. The first is that of large companies and governments aligned with the ideology of neoliberalism, which see the region as a frontier for the expansion of transnational capital and increased profits, without considering the preservation of strategic resources for the life on the planet.

We understand that this model affects not only the populations and the local environment, but also the whole society, either by the loss of a heritage that belongs to the people, or by the social and environmental impacts that affects society as a whole. 

And the view of the riverside people, indigenous, quilombolas [black people of rural communities with collective property of the land], small farmers, workers, natives and migrants who came to this region from every corner of the country in search for a better life, who sees the human being in coexistence with the forest. This is the view of traditional knowledge, which cultivates the seeds, promotes agro ecological alternatives, knows the rivers and the fish, and has a rich culture expressed in music, food, crafts, and customs.

Photo children playing in the river

Photo: Guilherme Lima

MAB in the Amazon

Those affected by dams in the Amazon, organized in the MAB share this same point of view. That is why we fight and we organize in regions where the dams have left a trail of destruction and also where there are threats of such projects. 

The diversity of impacts in the Amazon region, as well as the distances between regions, poses several challenges to the articulation and organization of the subjects for the defense and promotion of human rights. In this way, MAB has worked with other organizations in the region to dispute this model and to denounce the violation of human rights, social and environmental impacts, to organize families in the defense of their territories, to implement sustainable practices in the use of natural resources, to provide political education and to disseminate information to the society, in order to collectively build mechanisms of action and defense of this great natural wealth.

Photo of MAB at the neighborhood

Photo: Guilherme Lima

We defend that this patrimony belongs to the people, to benefit from it under the logic of sustainable use and in the service of the real demands of the whole society. That is why our struggle in defense of this territory and this heritage must belong to everyone who is concerned about the future of the planet and of the next generations.


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