Brazilians have a lot to be happy about this month with a huge win for the country’s most cherished natural wonders – the Amazon rainforest.
Both human rights groups and environmentalists have been fighting for months to stop the proposed construction of a dam that would have flooded 145 square miles of the tropical forest, and displaced some 12,000 Munduruku Indians.
Plans to construct the 8,000-megawatt São Luiz do Tapajós (SLT) dam came to a halt when the Ibama protection agency cancelled plans to move forward with the project, citing that environmental impact studies failed to provide substantial evidence that its construction warranted the social and ecological impact.
For activists like Danicley Aguiar who opposed to the dam’s construction, the news was the best thing possible to wake up to. “Once my heart rate returned to normal, I started to call my colleagues and Munduruku leaders, seeking confirmation,” said Aguiar.
Had the dam been built it would have spanned the five-mile wide Tapajós river and been the sixth-largest hydroelectric dam in the world. It also would have destroyed the ancestral land of the Munduruku people, and had a radical impact on the Amazon rainforest ecological system.
Some 1.2 million people around the world joined in pressuring companies like Siemens to remove themselves from the project, along with agencies like FUNAI (National Indigenous Foundation) and federal public prosecutors in the Brazilian state of Pará, arguing it was unconstitutional. Brazil’s constitution protects indigenous people from being forced off of their lands, except in extreme cases of war or epidemics.
For the Munduruku people, the cancellation of the dam’s construction is of the most celebratory of blessings. “We Munduruku people are very happy with the news,” said Arnaldo Kabá Munduruku, general chief Munduruku. “This is very important for us. Now we will continue to fight against other dams in our river.” The next step to further protecting the Munduruku’s land would be for the Brazilian Ministry of Justice to officially demarcate the Sawré Muybu territory.
A licence for the Tapajós dam could be requested again, but its success is slim due to the high costs of redoing impact studies from scratch.
Advocates against the dam’s construction argued from the beginning that it was unnecessary, with environment minister José Sarney Filho saying its power could be matched by renewable energy such as wind and solar.
While both international environment and human rights groups view the victory as a major turning point in the right direction of the Amazon’s future, there is still much work to be done. Forty two other hydrodam projects are planned in the Tapajós basin, with hundreds more marked throughout the 2,123,562 square mile rainforest. Previous dams built in the lush ecological oasis have negatively impacted local communities, devastated the environment and been wrought with corruption.
Nevertheless, the news has given the native people and their allies a lot to be happy about. “We have been awaiting such a welcome announcement from the Brazilian government for more than a decade,” said Christian Poirier of Amazon Watch.