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Brazil: Dam Protestors Occupy Energy Ministry

Environment News Service
March 14th, 2001

BRASILIA, Brazil -- The Brazilian Ministry of Mines and Energy was occupied this morning by 1,500 people who came from all across the country to protest the negative effects of large dams.

"These men, women, and children are here to demand a halt to new dam construction until already existing problems caused by dams in Brazil are solved," said Sadi Baron, one of the coordinators of the Movement of Dam Affected People (MAB).

The protesters also targeted the headquarters of the Inter-American Development Bank, which provides loans to private companies for dam construction.

But newly appointed Mining and Energy Minister Josa Jorge said Brazil needs all the hydroelectric power it can generate. Jorge warned Monday that the government might have to adopt electrical energy rationing programs before the end of the year due to the low water levels at Brazil's hydroelectric dams.

There is no way for local industry to cut power consumption in the short term without also cutting production, Jorge said.

More than 90 percent of the electricity produced in Brazil comes from hydropower.

Today's dam protests are part of today's International Day of Action Against Dams and for Rivers, Water, and Life. Protest and educational actions are taking place in 30 countries, according to the International Rivers Network.

The protestors came to Brasilia from Tocantins state in central Brazil where the Lajeado dam is located and others are planned. "Lajeado Dam is bringing disease, prostitution, hunger, and alcohol to the Xerente people, and causing disrespect for our culture and an increase in violence on our lands," their leaders declared in 1999.

The Apinaj indigenous people are fighting the Serra Quebrada Dam on the Tocantins River, which will flood more than five percent of their land. "We Apinaj people have the river as our source, because our culture is the mother earth, the river, nature, and animals. We do not accept this dam. We will fight to the death so that our children may live in peace," their leaders said.

Protesters came from Sao Paulo state where dams are planned for the Ribeira de Iguape Valley in the Atlantic coastal rainforest. Families from the Ribeira valley protested Monday at the headquarters of Brazil's environmental agency, IBAMA, against the agency's plans to award an environmental license for the Tijuco Alto dam.

People arrived in Brasilia from Rio Grande do Sul where the Itaparica and Machadinho dams exist. They came from Pernambuco where the Itaparica dam went into operation in 1988 and from Bahia state where several dams are planned.

The protesters are calling for the democratization of Brazilian energy policy and the implementation of renewable energy generation and conservation measures to avoid the social and environmental impacts large dams cause.

MAB is threatening to occupy and force construction to stop on various dam projects throughout the country.

The Brazilian government plans to build cheaper and more flexible gas fueled power plants along with expensive and environmentally problematic hydroelectric dams. Natural gas will be produced in Brazil's new oil and gas fields and piped in from neighboring Bolivia.

To see a list of other dam related actions happening around the world today, visit the International Rivers Network website at:
http://www.irn.org/dayofaction/2001





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