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An attempt by President Dilma Rousseff to eliminate 86,288 hectares of protected areas in the Brazilian Amazon (equivalent to the area of 161,178 football fields) to make way for five large hydroelectric dams has been challenged as unconstitutional in the Supreme Court by Federal Public Prosecutors (the Ministério Publico Federal or MPF). The MPF alleges that the Provisional Measure (Medida Provisória) signed by Rousseff in early January violates the Brazilian Constitution and the country's environmental legislation.
According to head prosecutor Roberto Monteiro Gurgel Santos, the majority of the proposed dam projects lack environmental impact studies. As a result, there is no certainty whether the dams will be constructed, and if so, in what location that would minimize their negative impacts. Hence, reducing the boundaries of protected areas to make way for dam reservoirs, prior to carrying out environmental impact studies, is both ludicrous and illegal. Economic viability studies for the proposed dams have also not been carried out.
"The Provisional Measure signed by President Rousseff signals a growing tendency within the federal government, already visible with the Belo Monte Dam, to blatantly disregard human rights and environmental legislation in the rush to construct over 60 large dams in the Amazon," said Brent Millikan, Amazon program director at International Rivers. "This shows that the president is backtracking on Brazil's environmental commitments, and will use any means necessary to push through an agenda of expensive mega-infrastructure projects in the Amazon, reminiscent of the military dictatorship in the 1970s. It begs the question, who will protect the Amazon and the rights of its people, if not the government?"
If the Provisional Measure is not overturned by the Supreme Court, it still needs to be ratified by both houses of Congress to enter into law. In Para State, the Provisional Measure would eliminate a total of 75,630 hectares in five conservation units to make way for the reservoirs of two large proposed dams on the Tapajós river—São Luiz do Tapajós and Jatobá. The areas that would have their boundaries reduced include the Amazonia National Park (17,800 hectares), the Itaituba 1 and Itaituba 2 National Forests (7,705 and 28,453 hectares, respectively), Crepori National Forest (856 acres), and the Tapajos Environmental Protection Area (19,916 hectares).
In the states of Rondônia and Amazonas, 8,470 hectares would be excluded from the Mapinguari National Park so they could be flooded by the Jirau and Santo Antônio dams on the Madeira River. Additionally, 2,188 acres would be excluded from the Campos Amazônicos National Park to make way for the reservoir of the proposed Tabajara hydroelectric dam on the Machado River, a tributary of the Madeira River.
According to a document submitted by the Rousseff administration to the Brazilian Congress, the reduction of protected areas was proposed by the federal environmental agency, ICMBio. However, internal memos reveal that local staff of ICMBio—who are responsible for the management of protected areas in the Tapajós region—expressed direct opposition to the proposal. According to them, the reduction of protected areas, in the absence of socio-economic and environmental assessments of impacts and risks, is likely to cause tremendous damage to the region's biodiversity, including endemic and endangered species, and to the livelihoods of local populations.
Raione Lima, regional coordinator of the Movement for Dam Affected People (MAB) in Itaituba (Pará state) argues that "the government's attempts to reduce the size of conservation units on the Tapajós river shows that it is catering to the interests of large construction contractors, mining interests, agribusiness, commercial loggers and other members of the local elite, at the expense of biodiversity and the rights of indigenous communities and other local populations."
The São Luiz do Tapajós and Jatobá dams are the first of seven large dams proposed by the parastatal energy company Eletronorte for construction along the Tapajós River and its main tributary, the Jamanxim River. The reservoirs of five additional dams (Chacorão, Cachoeira do Caí, Jamanxim, Cachoeira dos Patos, and Jardim de Ouro) would inundate a total of 165,324 hectares in two national parks, four national forests and the Mundurucu indigenous territory. Recently, the Mundurucu tribe denounced Eletronorte's plans to build the Chacorão dam, slated to flood 18,721 hectares of indigenous lands, as a "criminal act" that demonstrates an "absolute lack of concern of the federal government with the rights of the indigenous people of Brazil."
For more information, click here.
Each year since 1981, to counterbalance the seemingly never-ending awards ceremonies honoring the film industry, a different kind of award has cropped up—the Golden Raspberries, better known as the Razzies.
The day before the Academy Awards ceremony, the Razzies honor the worst performances in film. And to show the rest of the world that they don't take themselves too seriously, actors—for the most part—take the dubious Razzie nominations and awards in stride.
In fact, Sandra Bullock appeared at the Razzies to accept her "win" for worst actress of 2009 just the day before winning an Academy Award for best actress for her work in The Blind Side. Fortunately for her, no one remembered her other major release—All About Steve, which garnered her a Golden Raspberry.
Today, the corporate-world's version of the Razzie—The Public Eye Award—was awarded in Davos, Switzerland (in time with the World Economic Forum currently taking place there) to honor the corporation with the most "contempt for the environment and human rights" in the world.
But unlike the Razzies, where everything has the sparkle of humor in the cozy world of make-believe, the Public Eye Awards shed light on very real atrocities. And so this year's winner, Vale, a Brazilian multi-national mining corporation, won't have a spokesman on hand to accept the award.
By staging the Public Eye Award announcement at the world's largest gathering of leaders from politics, business, media and civil society, the impact is magnified "to remind corporations of their social and environmental responsibility."
The Public Eye Awards website has this to say about Vale:
Mines, steel plants, railroads, ports and hydroelectric dams at the expense of people and the environment—Vale is the second-largest corporation in Brazil, the second-largest mining corporation worldwide, operating in nearly 40 countries, and the largest global producer of iron ore. The corporation’s 70-year history is tarnished by repeated human rights abuses, inhumane working conditions, pillaging of the public heritage and the ruthless exploitation of nature. An international network linking communities and workers affected by Vale was created in 2010. It recently launched a dossiê describing several of the worst cases of Vale’s disregard for people and the environment in eight countries. One such example is the company’s recent purchase of a major stake in the consortium engaged in building the notorious Belo Monte Dam Complex in the Amazon. If the massive dam project continues, it will have disastrous social and environmental consequences, including the forced relocation of 40,000 people and devastation of a riverine ecosystem that is the basis of survival for indigenous communities, riverbank communities and fisherfolk—who have not had a voice in the matter, nor will they receive adequate compensation.
Vale received more than 25,000 votes to win the Public Eye Award of 2012. Other frontrunners included:
For more information about the awards and other finalists, click here.