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Federal Public Ministry considers suspending the displacement of communities affected by Belo Monte

Federal Public Ministry considers suspending the displacement of communities affected by Belo Monte

The Federal Public Ministry (MPF) recommends that the court suspend the displacement of riverside dwellers who inhabit the areas affected by the construction of the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant. Ricardo Joffily/Ascom SPD

Source: EBC / Agência Brasil
The Federal Public Ministry (MPF) intends to recommend that the court suspend the displacement of riverside dwellers who inhabit the areas affected by the construction of the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant in Vitória do Xingu, South-East Pará. The initiative, which is currently being discussed by the National Human Rights Council, is the result of a two-day inspection carried out this week by representatives of federal public organizations, including IBAMA.

“We have spoken with people who have known from the start that they would be the most seriously affected by the undertaking – mostly river inhabitants and fishermen from the Xingu River and, we were shocked by the reality. Their problems are much more serious than we had originally imagined”, says Public Prosecutor Felício Pontes to Agência Brasil.

A report on the visit is underway, which will be sent in the next few days to Norte Energia consortium, responsible for the construction of the plant. The proposal is to await response from the consortium regarding problems raised by the committee and suggestions to overcome them. Despite this, in addition to negotiating a joint recommendation with the Council for the Protection of the Human Being to try to suspend the displacement until the problems are resolved, the prosecutor claimed that they had to consider the hypothesis that the FPM should judge a court procedure to try to review the amounts of the compensations being paid for financial reparation.

According to Pontes, the compensation is not enough for families of river dwellers and fishermen to maintain their sources of income and living standards. “The amounts of the compensations are very low, based on the wooden and straw houses that these people live in, not taking into account the fact that they earn a living from the places in which they live and fish. The resulting losses, including the inability to continue exercising their economic activity, have not been included in the compensation paid so far.”

In agreement with the prosecutor, fishermen will tell you that, as a result of the interventions on the Xingu River, their individual weekly catch fell from 3 tonnes to 7 kilos of fish. “It is a very tough situation, and it already was before the plant even started functioning. The consortium does not want to accept this. It wants to compensate the people only taking into account the value of our modest constructions, in many cases little more than a shack, or alternatively, install these families in urban dwellings inside cities, far from the river, where these people will no longer have their main source of income.”

Pontes did not know the exact number of people who were affected by the undertaking, given a lack of access to the social and environmental registering of the affected areas’ inhabitants, which was the consortium’s responsibility. The prosecutor claims it was unfinished. Norte Energia insists it has conducted a complete survey and provided the information to IBAMA to obtain an environmental license. According to the Brazilian Movement of Dam Affected People (MAB), which initially reported the violation of human rights among traditional peoples, over 3,000 registered families, unable to opt for resettlement, are being forced to accept the compensation.

The prosecutor understands that the problems identified by the group that visited the affected communities violate laws such as Convention 169 of the International Labour Organization (ILO) – to which Brazil is a party and which establishes that traditional peoples must be consulted so as to preserve their ways of life – and the very constraints established by IBAMA in authorizing the works. “Making the initiative viable both socially and environmentally, violates laws and established conditions.”

Sought out by the report, IBAMA confirmed its participation in the undertaking of said inspection report in which possible non-compliances with the environmental licensing of Belo Monte will be “dissected”. The institution claimed to have had no part in defining compensations, which, according to the organization, are to be negotiated between the parties.

In a statement, Norte Energia claimed to have fulfilled all of the constraints established in the Basic Environmental Plan, executed and funded by licensing organizations. The consortium explained that, in fact, the fishermen are to only be compensated for improvements made where they live and not for properties which belong to the Union. For example, Norte Energia claims that there are no houses on the islands that are to be submerged, but only rough housing constructions, which serve as a support for the fishermen that stop on these islands. The consortium commits itself not only to compensating these installations but also to building others on the islands that will not be swamped.

Concerning the rehousing of fishermen that choose to be transferred to other areas, Norte Energia ascertains that the areas chosen are situated within distances agreed to in the Basic Environmental Plan. The consortium claims not to have noted the scarcity of fish as a result of the undertaking and is sorry that the FPM representatives only spent two days in the region, “an insufficient amount of time for any in depth analysis of the reality in the region”. The company believes that some public authorities and representatives of NGOs fight over the Belo Monte plant "merely for ideological purposes".

© EBC / Agência Brasil - translated by Felix Charnley / original article

Date : 05/06/2015