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Archives for : Bianca Jagger

The World Cup Exposes Brazil’s Injustices

The World Cup Exposes Brazil’s Injustices

2014-06-04-CHIEFRAIONIWALKINGAWAYFROMTHEPROTEST27.05.14CREDITMAIRAIRIGARAYAMAZONWATCH.jpg On June 12th the World Cup kicks off in Brazil; the country has been beset by protest in the run up to the tournament. Last year up to a million people demonstrated across Brazil: protesting the vast expense of the World Cup, calling for better public services and an end to corruption. On June 3rd, the police were accused of heavy handedness as protestors gathered outside the World Cup Stadium in Goiania, during a friendly football match between Brazil and Panama. The demonstrators condemn the 15 billion dollars spent on the tournament which could have gone towards social services and improving living standards for the poor of Brazil. It’s the latest in a long line of demonstrations. 2014-06-04-MAY27THPROTEST.jpg But now Brazil’s poor favela residents and the indigenous and tribal people have joined forces. On May 28th in Brasilia, 1,500 residents of the favelas, indigenous people, students and many other Brazilians from all walks of life took to the streets, gridlocking them for hours. Some occupied the roof of the Brazilian Congress, including members of the indigenous Guarani tribe who carried banners saying, ‘Guarani resiste, Demarcacao ja!’ ‘The Guarani are resisting. Yes to demarcation!’ Police fired tear gas and stun grenades into the crowd. One policeman was reportedly shot in the leg with an arrow. 2014-06-04-MEDIANINJAPROTESTSMOKEBOMBS27THMAY.jpgSmoke bombed protesters, Brasilia May 27th 2014. (Credit: MEDIANINJA) At first glance the inhabitants of Brazil’s urban slums, the favelas, and the indigenous peopleof the Brazilian Amazon may not seem to have a common cause. But both groups face violence with impunity from police and the military, poverty, land insecurity, neglect by the authorities. The Brazilian government is brushing them under the carpet. On June 9th the legendary Chief Raoni Metuktire and his nephew Chief Megaron Txucarramãe, members of the Mebengôkre Kayapó tribe in the Brazilian Amazon, will arrive in London to gather support for the Kayapó and for all the tribes across Brazil in their struggle to protect their ancestral lands and way of life. They are urging the Brazilian government to demarcate the region known as Kapôt-Nhinore, which is sacred to the Kayapó. They will be holding a press conference on June 9th – I will be there to speak in their support, as Founder and Chair of the Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation (BJHRF). It is a critical time for indigenous rights in Brazil. The Kayapó, and all the indigenous peoples of the Amazon are threatened; by mega-dams, illegal mining, logging, occupation by settlers and ranchers, and by companies and large corporations, by proposed legal reform and constitutional amendments which if allowed to go ahead will strip the tribes of their territorial rights, and endanger their livelihoods and cultures. Throughout my life I have campaigned on behalf of indigenous peoples all over the world: in South America, Asia and Africa. I have witnessed the suffering of many of these ancient tribes, murdered, threatened, abused, forced from their homes and deprived of their way of life. Millions of indigenous people have become refugees in their own land and we don’t know how many thousands have lost their lives. 2014-06-04-PROTESTERBEINGTREATED.jpgProtester being treated after gas exposure, May 27th. (Credit: MEDIANINJA)The values of indigenous people have shaped my relationship to the earth, and our responsibilities towards her. During my thirty years of campaigning for human rights, social justice and environmental protection, I have campaigned on behalf of many indigenous tribes in Latin America: the Miskitos and Mayangna in Nicaragua, the Yanomami, the Guarani, and the Surui Paiter in Brazil, the Cofán, Siona, Secoya, Kichwa, and Huaorani tribes in Ecuador, and the Quechua in Peru. I learned from their wisdom, and also from their courage. Traditional indigenous cultures use natural resources sustainably: forests, grasslands, rivers and wildlife, and preserve biodiversity. Protecting the rights of indigenous peoples is essential to our survival and that of the planet. Over and over again, indigenous peoples have been proven to be the best custodians of biodiversity in their ancestral lands. Brazil’s 1988 constitution recognises that the Indians have an ‘Original’ and inalienable right to occupy and use their traditional lands. If it can be shown that the tribe historically occupied and used that area of land, it is theirs by right – it should become demarcated land. Kapôt-Nhinore has already been surveyed by the indigenous agency FUNAI for demarcation, but the process has been stalled by bureaucracy, and is threatened by proposed changes to Brazil’s demarcation laws and constitution. In the past Brazil had an average of thirteen demarcations per year. Under President Dilma Rousseff this number has sunk to three a year. The demarcation process has been crippled by an unrelenting barrage of legislative proposals from Congressmen representing large agribusiness, mining corporations and the dam industry, designed to wrest the land from the indigenous tribes and open it to development. It is unconscionable. I urge President Rousseff to halt the Proposed Constitutional Amendment (PEC215) which would further delay the process for demarcations and claims: and would result in few, if any further demarcations being approved. Brent Millikan of International Rivers states, ‘constitutional amendment PEC 215 would transfer authority for demarcation of indigenous lands from the Executive branch to the Congress.’ Demarcation would become a political decision; power of the Executive being transferred to the Legislature, an abuse of the separation of powers, a foundation stone of the Constitution. Since the Congress is today dominated by the Bancada Ruralista – the large landowners’ lobby – it is highly unlikely that any demarcation would be granted. Even if it were, finding time for Congress to debate each demarcation would mean even more delays introduced into the process. Because the change would effectively be retrospective, Congress would also acquire the power to reduce or reverse territories (TI’s) which have already been demarcated. I urge President Rousseff to halt PEC 215 and the other proposed amendments to the Brazilian Constitution and laws which are eroding the indigenous peoples’ right to their ancestral lands. Some proposals would open up indigenous territories for mineral and oil extraction – mining companies have already begun to lodge claims to the territory. Some would not only permit, but effectively force the indigenous people to allow cattle ranching and agriculture on their land. If allowed to go ahead, these changes could destroy the forest and traditional lives of the Kayapó and many other tribes across Brazil. I call on the Brazilian government to enforce the Kayapó’s rights to their land, which are enshrined in the 1988 Constitution. I appeal for protection for the hundreds of tribes in the Brazilian Amazon who are continually threatened by landowners, illegal mining, logging, occupation by settlers and ranchers, and by companies and large corporations which continue to trade in produce from illegally farmed crops on indigenous territory, by reckless development projects which threaten their lives and livelihoods. Otherwise indigenous people will continue to be murdered, abused and pushed off their ancestral land. 2014-06-04-PROTESTERSPEC215CREDITMAIRA.JPGProtesting PEC 215. (Credit: Maira Irigaray, Amazonwatch)Among the most monstrous of these projects is the Belo Monte Dam, which is under construction on the Xingu River in the Brazilian state of Pará, in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon. Belo Monte will be more than a dam; it is a megadam, the third largest in the world, which will displace 20,000 people and change the Amazon basin forever. It is a grave human rights violation and an environmental crime I have campaigned against Belo Monte for many years. In March 2012 I went on a fact finding mission to the Xingu. Construction on the dam had then just begun. I travelled down the Xingu River in a small boat. I was accompanied by my courageous friend Antonia Melo, co-ordinator of Xingu Vivo, a collective of local NGOs opposed to Belo Monte, and Ruy Marques Sposati. We saw the great red scarred coffer dams, the beginnings of Belo Monte, rearing out of the river. I met with indigenous leaders, with local communities, NGOs, government officials, extractavists – and the Bishop of the Xingu, Dr Erwin Krautler, whose concern and care for the people affected by Belo Monte was evident. I was distraught by the suffering I witnessed in the area. I published my findings in a report on the Huffington Post: The Belo Monte Dam, an Environmental Crime. I urge you to read it. The people of the Xingu need our support. 2014-06-04-SUECUNNINGHAMRIOPROTEST2012.jpgProtesters assemble on the beach in Rio de Janeiro during Rio+20, 2012, to protest the Belo Monte dam. (Credit: Sue Cunningham)And Belo Monte is only part of the plan: on 25 April 2014 it was disclosed in Lima, Peru that 412 dams are planned across the Amazon. 256 of them are in Brazil, 77 in Peru, 55 in Ecuador, 14 in Bolivia, six in Venezuela, two in Guyana, and one each in Colombia, French Guyana and Surinam. Five of the six rivers which run through the world’s largest tropical forest will be dammed – and damned. All over Brazil, even now, the Amazon’s waterways are being blocked and diverted. The river system that provides a fifth of the world’s fresh water is being dammed, polluted and fouled up. It is imperative that indigenous rights, including the right to free, prior and informed consent, be respected in places like the Tapajós basin, in the heart of the Amazon, where the Brazilian government plans to construct up to 29 large dams, following the same destructive model as Belo Monte. To the Kayapó each river, the sky, the rocks, all plants, trees and animals have a spirit. The Xingu River is sacred. At least five dams are planned upstream of Belo Monte. If these dams are built, it will be a grave human rights violation and cause irreparable environmental destruction in the Kayapó lands. Already the Kayapó are seeing the impact of the influx of some of the 100,000 workers and migrants who are flooding into the area, bringing overcrowding, disease, alcoholism, violence and prostitution. Anthropologist Paul Little released a report in April 2014, ‘Mega-Development Projects in Amazonia: A geopolitical and socioenvironmental primer.‘ He writes:

The weight of these socio-environmental impacts is distributed in an extremely unequal manner. The majority of the benefits derived from the construction of mega-development projects accrue to… large multinational corporations, the administrative apparatus of national governments and financial institutions. The majority of negative impacts of these same mega-development projects are borne by indigenous peoples, who suffer from the invasion of their territories, and local communities, which suffer from the proliferation of serious social and health problems.’

In 2009 the Kayapó wrote a letter to Electrobras, the parastatal energy company that is partnering with huge construction companies such as Odebrecht, Andrade Gutierrez and Camargo Correa to build mega-dams in the Amazon and elsewhere in Latin America and Africa.

‘We do not accept Belo Monte or any other dam on the Xingu,’ they said. ‘Our river does not have a price, our fish that we eat does not have a price, and the happiness of our grandchildren does not have a price. We will never stop fighting: In Altamira, in Brasilia, or in the Supreme Court. The Xingu is our homeand you are not welcome here.’

2014-06-04-horsies.jpgProtesters confront police. (Credit: MEDIANINJA)The Brazilian Amazon is one of the wonders of the world. It is critical to survival of the people of Brazil, and people throughout the world. A quarter of all land animal species are found in the Amazon. The rainforest absorbs around 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year. It is vital in the race against climate change. I urge President Rousseff to save it, and put a stop to Belo Monte and the other dams. The plight of the Kayapó illustrates the failure of governments all over the world to protect indigenous peoples and their ancient way of life. The Kayapó have a rich and ancient culture. Their name for themselves, Mebengôkre, means ‘people of the space between waters,’ but the name ‘Kayapó’ was given to them by outsiders. It means ‘those who look like monkeys,’ probably from the traditional ceremonial dance in which the men wear monkey masks. I appeal to the Brazilian government to affirm the Kayapó’s rights to their sacred land in Kapôt-Nhinore, and to do everything in its power to protect them. President Dilma Rousseff has a choice. I urge her to seize this leadership opportunity, to halt PEC215 and the other unconscionable, unconstitutional amendments and changes to law which will threaten indigenous peoples’ rights to their land across Brazil. If these proposals go ahead, hundreds of tribal cultures may disappear and Brazil will lose an irreplaceable part of its heritage.

  Read ,more here — http://www.commondreams.org/view/2014/06/05-0

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Open letter to all Speakers at #THiNK2013, Goa, actually the #STiNK2013

bloodhands
Dear Speaker 
We understand that you are scheduled to speak at the ‘Think ‘13 Festival’ being organized by Tehelka at the Grand Hyatt, Bambolim, Goa from 8th to 10th November 2013.
 
We bring to your kind attention the following brief facts regarding the said event:
 
  1. Most of the sponsors are alleged to be involved in major illegal activities such as illegal mining scams, telecom scam, Radiatapes, Sponsorship of Salwa Judum, environmental destruction and displacement of indigenous communities.
  2. The organizer of the event is collaborating with the illegal acts of these corporations. The refusal to expose illegal mining in Goa, in spite of having a story researched by one of their own journalists much before it became Public knowledge, amounts to covering up the illegal mining and allowing the wanton destruction (done by the same corporations who are sponsoring the event now).
  3. The venue is a construction in violation of CRZ laws.
  4. The event is for the very rich only, as is evident from the entry charges.
 
It is very clear that holding this event is only an attempt to create a clean image for the same corporations who are alleged to be involved in massive scams, environmental destruction and displacement of indigenous communities.
 
We therefore request you to kindly boycott the event, or, announce your disapproval of, or, non-association with, the tainted corporations and their anti-people acts.
 
Thanking you,
Members of the Goan Society, including John Fernandes, Benaulim; Zarina Da Cunha, Nuvem; Abhijit Prabhudesai, Curtorim; Sidharth Karapurkar, Navelim; Rony Dias, Cuncolim; Fr. Victor Ferrao, Rachol; Cassian Furtado, Varca and many others

 

 

 

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#India – Tehelka’s #THiNK2013 – The Unbearable Stench of Blood Money is #STiNK2013 #mustread

 

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JOIN US WHEREIS THIS STINK FEST YAAR

STiNK2013 – The Unbearable Stench of Blood Money

 

When the fourth estate is peddled like real estate, when journalism and dirty business collude, and when Orwellian ‘doublethink’ becomes the way of the scribes; we can unhesitatingly conclude that the so-called fourth pillar of democracy has been reduced to smithereens, much like the other three pillars.

 

Since its first edition in 2011, the Tehelka ThinkFest has been seen as a severe blow to the codes of journalism. The first ThinkFest featured the benevolence of the most controversial names in the business world that year, Essar and Tata Steel, both corporations stuck neck deep in a quagmire of accusations, from being involved in mining scams, telecom scams, sponsorship of the Salwa Judum, Radiagate, environmental violations, illegal land grab, forced displacement and several other crimes. But it was no surprise as Tarun Tejpal, the top gun at Tehelka, had earlier been seen that year at the Jaipur Literature Festival defending the event’s sponsorship by criminal corporations like Shell and Rio Tinto; he had essentially argued for his own case. That Tehelka was not the going to organise seminars on rural issues in Jamia Milia auditoriums anymore. That they would now openly solicit endorsements from the very corporations they had exposed in their publications.

 

Shoma Chaudhury, the Managing Editor of Tehelka, in an interview defended Tehelka’s decision to rake in blood money, saying it was to tell stories of the poor. Since 2012, aside from its problematic coverage of Soni Sori and Lingaram Kodopi’s cases, the publication seems to have cautiously veered from reporting any scams about Essar and other sponsors.  Even prior to the ThinkFest, the publication was totally mum on the 2010 medieval-era styled pillaging of villages in Odisha’s Kalinga Nagar, where Adivasi communities have been fighting Tata Steel with their lives. In the same NYTimes interview, Shoma mentions how Tehelka refused money from Vedanta, but many might be aware of how Tehelka had once carried a Vedanta press release in the guise of an article glorifying Vedanta’s CSR activities in Lanjigarh & Niyamgiri, attributing it to a reporter who personally claimed that he had not written it.

 

This year, the Think Fest has amongst its sponsors even more infamous corporations like the Narendra Modi-backed Adani group, land grabbers like DLF and late liquor baron Ponty Chaddha’s Wave. The Adani group is widely known for its illegal land grab for its illegal SEZ and port in Mundra, all facilitated by the Gujrat Govt. It is India’s largest coal importer, biggest private port operator and biggest thermal power producer (read one of India’s biggest polluter). The Modi government has allegedly alloted land to Adani at the rate of Re.1/- per sqm, at least a thousand times less than the market rates. In fact, a CAG report highlights that Adani gained more than Rs.70 crore when the Gujarat government-owned GPSC sold natural gas to it at rates much lower than what it had bought from the open market. Another CAG report says that Adani Power owed at least Rs. 240 cr as a fine to the Gujarat Govt but was officially fined a little more than Rs.79 cr.

 

After destroying more than a thousand hectares of coastal mangroves and being slapped with a Rs. 200 crore fine, Adani needs all the goodwill that events like ThinkFest can garner for it. After all, it is India’s most indebted company with a debt bill of at least Rs. 65,000 cr while its revenues stand at Rs. 47,000 cr.

 

The rise of Adani is closely linked to the rise of Narendra Modi in the post-riot situation. Modi needed big business to support him and Adani fulfilled that role. In return Adani was given a free run to devastate nature and society and rise from a mere Rs.3,300 cr company to a Rs. 47,000 cr company within a decade. With Modi’s blessings Adani has grown rapidly and made inroads across the nation and world. While its proposed coalfields in Australia are going to be one of the single largest producer of greenhouse gases, in Odisha, the company’s goons have been seen orchestrating attacks on activists like Prafulla Samantara, who are opposing the massive proposed coalfields in Angul. The infamous Tata port at Dhamra, which is devastating Olive Ridley nesting grounds, is slated to be taken over by Adani soon.

 

While one could get stuck on Adani, there’s a long list of logos that make up ThinkFest’s Patrons that need to be talked about. Essar, for instance, continues to be one of the chief patrons of the event. If this video from the first fest is anything to go by, Neena Tejpal herself admits that Essar and Tehelka essentially share the same values, at a time when the memory of Essar’s role in the telecom scam, in supporting the Salwa Judum, its illegal diversion of water from river Mahanadi and land grab in Jagatsingpur for a steel factory where displaced people are protesting, was fresh in our minds. Essar’s relationship with Modi, of course, reads out like a jaded Bollywood love story– with Shasi Ruia accompanying Namo on foreign tours to Switzerland and South Korea, making promises of undying investment at Vibrant Gujarat summits, falling out in the face of 8000 crore sales tax dues, being caught in a compromising position by the CAG and eventually making up.

 

Also on the red carpet of sponsors are JSW Steel, pulled up by both the Lokayukta and the CBI in connection with the Karnataka mining scam, causing a windfall Rs. 890 crore loss to the exchequer in resources, just as JSW wired a hefty thank-you in the form Rs 20 crore donation to Yedyurappa’s son’s trust for turning a blind eye to its excesses.

 

Iconic scammers DLF, whose large-scale land-grabbing stunts have even found mention in Tehelka, are presenting the John Pilger session, if only to add to the irony that the ThinkFest is the perfect example of the industrial-military-media complex that Pilger always endeavored to expose.

 

A session with Medha Patkar (quite a feat to get her to endorse an event sponsored by Coca Cola), Bianca Jagger and a former Maoist revolutionary is being presented by a defense equipment manufacturer, Pipavav, just as disarmament activist Binalakshmi Nepram is also a speaker at the event. Pipavav has just been awarded a 920 crore contract to build warships for the Indian coast guard.

 

Other sponsors include chronic polluters and cartelists United Phosphorous, who slapped a 25 crore defamation lawsuit against activist Rohit Prajapati for exposing pollution at their VAPI plant. United Phosphorous also leads the race in Mumbai’s garbage scam to process the city’s waste in its Deonar dump for a whopping cost of Rs. 26,000 crore, and displace those amongst its poorest who make their living from garbage.  To stir up some local angst, Goan mining companies also feature on the list of sponsors.

 

If that wasn’t enough to fill one up with disgust, the line-up of speakers is no less. Baijayant ‘Jay’ Panda, BJD MP often seen on TV defending Naveen Patnaik’s corporate resource grabbing, a high-flying mining and cable TV baron, is being heralded as “The Golden Boy…clearly a doer, a technocrat eager to set an example of good governance and efficiency”. This “‘accidental politician’ irritated by the inefficiencies of the country still beset by many of the problems of the ‘licence raj’” is no less than an Adani. His mining company, IMFA, availed of loan waiver from the amounting to over Rs. 2000 crore from the Naveen Patnaik government in 2007.

 

Then again, Panda hasn’t had a fraction of the good times that Vijay Mallaya has gotten away with. And yet here is, presented by Tehelka as ‘the Maverick Mogul’, his achievements listed as “bringing back to the country the sword of Tipu Sultan, Mahatma Gandhi’s eyeglasses” and “an annual calendar shoot with stunning models” (not necessarily in that order, but well, “it says as much about Mallya as the balance sheets do.”)

 

THiNK is a celebration where people like Nandan Nikelani, Vijay Mallya and Jay Panda will be promoted endlessly to the point that all their past misdeeds are pushed out of our consciousness into oblivion.

 

While a few names like Medha Patkar, Bianca Jagger and John Pilger on the guest list might make  Think seem like an honorable seminar to attend, just a little digging exposes it as a vulgar celebration of dirty blood money appropriating a journalistic organisation that was, until now, seen as a torchbearer of truth and progressive values.

 

It is understandable that there is no outcry from the general public, who might buy the general rhetoric of the sponsored bottomline. But for those in the know, those who’ve seen the truth behind the logos, who’ve resisted it in their own capacities, and who have yet chosen to actively engage with or ignore the goings-on on this rotten stage, it raises uncomfortable questions.

 

It signals an era where even vociferous dissenters believe that struggles cannot exist unless legitimised by the media, just as the avenues of getting an uncomfortable story covered are rapidly shrinking in the face of media corporatisation. It makes even the socially defiant among us afraid to call out this mainstream masquerade and risk the chance of never being invited to the ball.

As it trivialises and capitalises on the very pillars that it stands on, ThinkFest forces us all to do a double-think on what kind of inconvenient truths and truth-tellers we can live with, as the lines blur.

 

 

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Deadly Sins in the Brazilian Amazon #mustread

By Bianca Jagger, Reader Supported News

16 April 13

 

The trampling of indigenous rights, military force used against protesters, impunity, megadams and environmental destruction. Is Brazil returning to the bad old days?

 

he Belo Monte dam

The controversial Belo Monte Dam, which is under construction on the Xingu River in the Brazilian state of Pará, is roughly twenty percent completed. Belo Monte will displace over 20,000 people, gravely endanger the survival of indigenous peoples and local communities and cause irreparable environmental damage to the Brazilian Amazon.

Belo Monte will be the third largest hydroelectric plant in the world and the second-largest hydroelectric dam in Brazil. At an estimated cost of upwards of $18 billion US dollars, the dam will stand 90 metres high, 3,545 meters long, with a planned installed capacity of over 11,000 megawatts. Belo Monte is not merely a dam. It is a megadam. It is a travesty of human rights and anenvironmental crime. The land along the Xingu River is home to 25,000 indigenous people from 40 ethnic groups, who have lived and worked in harmony with the river for thousands of years. The Arara, Juruna and Xikrin, who are closest to Belo Monte, depend on the river for their survival: fishing, trade, and transport. The river is their lifeline.


Belo Monte Map, by International Rivers

 

Not for much longer. Belo Monte has already begun to seriously damage livelihoods and the environment. Local riverbank populations such as the indigenous Jericoá community say that the Xingu is no longer a source of potable water, due to contamination from construction at the Pimental site upstream. Explosions, diversion of the river flow, sedimentation and pollution caused by the preliminary earth ‘coffer dams’ have already had devastating impacts on fish populations in the Xingu. There is little left to eat, and no more living to be made from the river. Cofferdams have diverted approximately 5 kilometres of the Xingu’s main channels into one narrow channel of 450 meters, making boat transport extremely dangerous. The Jericoá, like other indigenous communities and local populations, are also dependent on boat transport for trade, basic health and education services. In astatement issued by the Jericoá community on March 21st, they call the actions of the Brazilian government and Norte Energia, the state-controlled company behind the dam, an attempt ‘to assassinate the Xingu and the people that depend upon the river for their survival.”

Belo Monte will create a 100 km “dry stretch” below the reservoir, where the Xingu will be reduced to dry season levels all year round. The land on this dry stretch includes two indigenous reserves, the Arara and the Juruna da Terra Indígena Paquiçamba, and a number of communities who are dependent upon the river for their livelihood and for transport. There is no road which will replace the river. The Xingu will become unrecognisable and for many, uninhabitable.


Antonia Melo protesting, by Ruy Marques Sposati

 

I have campaigned against Belo Monte for many years. In March 2012 I went on a fact finding mission to the Xingu. Construction on the dam had then just begun. I travelled down the Xingu in a small boat. I was accompanied by my courageous friend Antonia Melo, co-ordinator of Xingu Vivo, a collective of local NGOs opposed to Belo Monte, and Ruy Marques Sposati. We saw the great red scarred coffer dams, the beginnings of Belo Monte, rearing out of the river. I met with indigenous leaders, with local communities, NGOs, government officials, extractavists – and the Bishop of the Xingu, Dr Erwin Krautler, whose concern and care for the people affected by Belo Monte was evident. I was distraught by the suffering I witnessed in the area. This dam will not only destroy the Xingu, it will change the Amazon basin forever. I published my findings in a report on the Huffington Post: The Belo Monte Dam, an Environmental Crime. I urge you to read it. The people of the Xingu need our support.

Sex Slavery

The Belo Monte dam has brought abhorrent practises to the Xingu. On March 13, 2013, a 16-year-old girl escaped from a ‘brothel’ on the Belo Monte construction site where, it was subsequently discovered, she and fourteen others had been imprisoned in ‘small windowless rooms with no ventilation, with only a double bed, and… padlocks on the outside of the doors.’ The women had been lured from all over the state of Para with promises of legitimate employment and security. Instead, on arrival at Belo Monte they were incarcerated, raped and exploited. A congressional panel has summoned the directors of the Belo Monte Consortium to explain how sex slavery could be conducted on the very premises of the Belo Monte dam. But I fear justice will not be done. The dam has enormous financial incentives, and the Brazilian government behind it.

This is not an isolated incident. The influx of tens of thousands of migrant workers into the nearby city of Altamira and throughout the region has caused an explosion of violent crime and sex trafficking.

Working Conditions

Conditions on the construction sites of Belo Monte are atrocious. According to Brazilian newspaper Adital, many of the dam workers support the protesters cause, comparing Belo Monte’s labour conditions to a ‘prison.’ They say they would leave, but they are migrant workers, with nowhere else to go. In November 2012 work on Belo Monte stopped when disputes about pay and poor working conditions escalated into a riot among the construction workers, who ‘set fire to vehicles and mattresses, vandalized offices and canteens, burnt a bus and blocked the Trans-Amazon highway.’

Protest

At four in the morning, on March 21, 2013, a hundred and fifty protesters, led by the Jericoá community, occupied the construction site of the Belo Monte Dam. The group comprised women and men – people of all ages. There were representatives of the Juruna, Xypaia, Kuruaia and Canela tribes, as well as local fishermen and displaced farmers.

The March 21st protest was the sixth time since construction began in July 2011 that work on Belo Monte has been halted by protests. In June 2012, on the eve of the Rio+20 conference demonstrators broke through one of the coffer dams to restore the flow of the river, chanting ‘Free the Xingu.’ A few days later, Xicrin and Juruna indigenous protestors occupied the Pimental coffer dams for over a month, calling attention to the project’s impacts and the broken promises of the Brazilian government and its private sector partners responsible for construction of Belo Monte. (I wrote an article about this protest and the failure of Rio +20,‘The Future We Want,’ which can be found on the Huffington Post.) In January 2013, twenty leaders of the Juruna tribe blocked access roads to the construction site at Pimental, halting work for three days.

The people of the Xingu are invading the construction sites of Belo Monte because they are desperate. They face the destruction of their homeland and the end of their way of life. The Belo Monte dam will displace them, in their tens of thousands; it will strip them of their livelihoods. And their voices are being ignored by the Brazilian government.

The protest on March 21st was the latest of a long line of demonstrations and legal battles against Belo Monte, stretching back nearly forty years. The people of the Xingu have opposed the dam since the 1970’s. The plan for Belo Monte was devised in 1975, during the years of Brazil’s dictatorship. It was then known as the Kararao dam. The project was abandoned in 1989 after widespread protest. But the scheme was redesigned between 1989 and 2002. President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva signed the contract for the Belo Monte dam with the Norte Energia consortium in 2010.

At every stage the Belo Monte dam has been opposed by the people who now live in its ever growing shadow.

The government reacted immediately to the Belo Monte protest on the morning of March 21st. They sent troops from the National Guard (Força Nacional de Segurança Pública) to the construction site to subdue it. According to a mandate from the Federal Ministry, the troops will remain onsite at Belo Monte for at least 90 days – they could stay indefinitely.

The Culture of Intimidation

The people of the Xingu are being silenced with military force. Not because they are a threat, but because their protests halt construction. It is obvious that the Brazilian government has decided that respecting the rights of indigenous peoples is not good for business. The tactics at Belo Monte are indicative of the troubling erosion of indigenous peoples’ rights, which is happening not only in the Xingu, but at dam sites all over Brazil. Across the country, the national guard and the federal police (Polícia Federal) are being used as a show of force to oppress critics and protesters.

According to Brent Millikan of International Rivers, this signals a new trend of intimidation; NGOs and protesters are being threatened with fines and imprisonment. Social action, he says, is being criminalised. Local magistrates are being called upon to issue writs of ‘Mandado Proibitivo,’ which amount to restraining orders for protesters, preventing them from demonstrating near the construction sites.

The Belo Monte consortium has engaged in espionage against the Belo Monte workers, protesters and local organisations opposed to the dam. In February a man was caught recording the annual meeting of Xingu Vivo, a local NGO. He immediately confessed that he had been hired by the Belo Monte consortium to infiltrate the organisation and feed information back to the consortium – and the Brazilian government’s national intelligence agency ABIN.

Condemned by Intergovernmental Rrganisations

The dam has been denounced by the human rights commission of the Organisation of American States (OAS). The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) and the ILO have condemned Belo Monte. When the OAS pronounced the lack of consultation with the indigenous people a violation of the international accords, the Brazilian government retaliated by cutting off its dues payments to the OAS and boycotted a meeting arranged by OAS in Washington DC, in October 2011. The ILO stated in a 2012 report that Brazil has violated Convention 169 which guarantees indigenous peoples the right to free, prior and informed consultation over projects that affect their lands and rights.

There are currently at least 12 lawsuits pending in Brazilian courts pertaining to the Belo Monte Dam, citing, among other complaints: improper licensing, lack of consultation with local communities and affected peoples, and serious environmental concerns. In 2012 construction was halted by court order on August 14th then resumed on August 28th.

Despite the people of the Xingu’s desperate opposition, despite condemnation from intergovernmental organisations and the international community at large, despite the urgent warnings of scientists that this dam is an environmental catastrophe, the construction of Belo Monte is being pushed forward.

It is clear that the Brazilian government and the Belo Monte Consortium are determined to force it through at any cost.

Environmental Destruction

The Xingu is an area of outstanding natural beauty. Three streams, the Tamitatoaba, the Romero and the Colisu converge to form the Xingu River. For 1,979 kilometres the river wanders through grasslands, savannahs, wooded archipelagos, pouring over the great cataracts at the Fall of Itamaraca. Near its mouth the river mingles with the waters of the Amazon in a network of eanos, or natural canals. It is an immense, interconnected ecosystem supporting thousands of species: human, animal and plant life.


The Xingu, by Bianca Jagger

 

I consider the Amazon and the Xingu to be wonders of the world.

Belo Monte will destroy the forest, cause the extinction of many rare species of animals and plants, affect the global environment and contribute to climate change. The dam is already decimating the fish populations and hundreds of other species. The black and white-patterned Zebra Pleco fish, which is found only on the Xingu River, is likely to die out. The Sunshine Pleco (Scobinancistrus aureatus), the Slender Dwarf Pike Cichlid (Teleocichla centisquama), the Plant-eating Piranha (Ossubtus xinguense) and the Xingu Dart-Poison frog (Allobates crombiei) are other species whose existence is threatened by the dam. As the Jericoá community knows all too well, the fish near Belo Monte are nearly gone. It will not be long before the other species follow suit.

Dams Across Brazil

Belo Monte is part of a plan for an overhaul of Brazil’s infrastructure: at least 34 dams are planned across the country, which will inundate at least 6,470 sq km of the world’s largest tropical forest. All over Brazil, even now, the Amazon’s waterways are being blocked and diverted. The river system that provides a fifth of the world’s fresh water is being dammed, polluted and fouled up.

Everywhere, the protests of the Brazilian riverine communities are being drowned out by the sound of construction – and they are being suppressed with military and police presence.

São Luíz do Tapajós, Jatobá and Chacorão – the Munduruku

Further into the Amazon Basin, west of Belo Monte on the Tapajós river, another major Amazonian tributary, the ancestral home of the Munduruku indigenous people is being threatened by three planned mega-dams: São Luíz do Tapajós, Jatobá and Chacorão. The dams are planned by the parastatal energy company, Eletronorte and its private sector partners, among them Brazilian construction giant Camargo Correa and the engineering firm CNEC, owned by Worley Parsons of Australia. Eletronorte also holds a 49.98% stake in Norte Energia, the consortium behind Belo Monte.


Tapajos Basin, by International Rivers

 

There are approximately 11,630 Munduruku people across Amazonas, Pará and Mato Grosso do Sul. If constructed, the dams will flood much of the Munduruku territory. Despite legal mandates by international bodies such as the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 169, the Munduruku have not been consulted by the Brazilian government on the construction of these three dams.

The Munduruku are vehemently opposed to these huge dam projects. They have seen the damage that Belo Monte has done to the Xingu.

Brutal raid at Teles Pires

In October 2012 the inhabitants of the Munduruku indigenous village known as Teles Pires, located on a river of the same name – a major tributary of the Tapajós that divides the states of Pará and Mato Grosso do Sul -expelled researchers inspecting the site of the São Luíz do Tapajós dam, which would flood over 700 square kilometres of the forest.

A month later, on the 7th of November 2012 a helicopter and dozens of men in flak jackets, armed with machine guns and assault rifles, descended upon Teles Pires.

The villagers, including women, children and elderly people, were teargassed, subdued and told to lie on the ground. They lay there in the sun for many hours. They were forbidden to speak to one another in their own language. The village radio was confiscated, and the phone wires cut. Memory cards, phones, and cameras were destroyed and thrown into the river.


Police in Amazon, by Paulo Suess

 

This brutal raid was carried out not by guerrillas or militia in a military dictatorship, but by the Brazilian Federal Police and the National Guard.

Those villagers who resisted were deal with harshly. Some were beaten and shot at, sprayed with pepper spray. Several people were seriously injured and one man, Adenilson Kirixi Munduruku was killed. His body was thrown in the river, perhaps for the purposes of concealment; it resurfaced the next day. According to reports a bomb was let off to confuse the scene of the crime.

Meanwhile the police destroyed a river dredge in front of the village, which had been used to extract gold – which was the ostensible cause for the police operation. Mining is not permitted in the area. All the contents of the dredge were also destroyed including a fridge and a gas cooker. The river was left swimming in petrol and chemicals.


Villagers being herded by air force, by Paulo Suess

 

Was the small gold dredge the real reason for the raid? According to Munduruku leaders, the operation was a blunt message from President Dilma Rousseff’s administration to indigenous peoples: either suspend immediately protests against the government’s ambitious dam-building plans for Tapajós and its tributaries – or face the consequences. As at Belo Monte, it seems the Brazilian government has been quick to answer resistance with a show of military and police force.

A Declaration of War

In late March 2013 following a presidential decree signed by President Rousseff, the Brazilian Air Force deployed a task force of some 240 troops, with participation of the National Guard (Força Nacional), Federal Police and Federal Highway Police to the tiny Itaituba airport near the Munduruku village of Sawyré Mubú. The purpose of the mission, known as Operation Tapajós, has been to provide security for 80 members of private consultancy firms engaged in technical studies for the São Luiz and Jatobá mega-dam projects. As in Belo Monte, there is no indication how long the troops will remain

The Munduruku have suspended talks with the government until the troops are withdrawn. Their public statement reads: ‘We are not criminals. We feel betrayed, humiliated and disrespected. We want dialogue… Our final warning. If the operation does not stop… we will have war.’

All of this military and police presence is being imposed upon indigenous and tribal people – unarmed communities. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is being openly flouted. Belo Monte and Munduruku are being occupied – by corporate interest.

The Brazilian government’s parastatal energy giant Eletrobras doesn’t want the delays the protesters cause to planning and construction at Belo Monte or at the sites of the planned Tapajós megadams. They are steamrolling human rights for profit – with the blessing of the Brazilian government.

The Madeira Dam

The Madeira complex in the state of Rondônia will consist of four dams: the Santo Antonio and Jirau which are already well underway, the Cachuela Esperanza Dam on the Beni River near Riberalta, Bolivia which is nearly ready for construction and the Guajará-Mirim Dam on the Madeira River upstream from Abunã, which is in the planning stages. When it is completed in 2015, theJirau hydroelectric dam will span 8km of the Madeira river and contain the largest number of giant turbines of any dam in the world. 2,250km of power lines will run between the Jirau and São Paulo.

I visited the Madeira River on my fact finding mission to Brazil in 2012. I attended an open meeting in the town hall, where I met with local communities and indigenous people. The stories I heard were tragically familiar: people were being evicted from their ancestral homeland: some had brought their orders of eviction to show me. Some told of their houses being flooded, and avalanches caused by the dams. Others told me of the sudden decline in the fish populations. I listened to their concerns, their accounts of the destruction of their livelihoods and their cultural identity by the Madeira Dam complex.

Slave Labour

Like Belo Monte, the Madeira dam complex is being constructed by exploitative labour. Workers flooded into the region drawn by the promise of employment. In September 2009, Brazilian authorities found 38 people working in ‘slave-like labour conditions’ in the construction site of Vila Mutum. According to the report the workers living arrangements were ‘subhuman… an overcrowded wooden shelter, with no beds, no adequate electricity or sanitary facilities.’ In 2011 riots broke out on the San Antonio and Jirau dam construction sites. According to Amazon Watch, protesting workers set fire to buses, living quarters and offices.

Several isolated indigenous peoples live near the Madeira, including the Mujica Nava and the uncontacted Jacareuba/Katawixi Indians. What will happen to them when the dams are built? What will they do when the river changes forever?

All this, and yet the Jirau and the downstream Santo Antonio complex will provide just 5 percent of what government energy planners say Brazil will need in the next 10 years.

Intimidation Across Brazil

The culture of intimidation is not restricted to dam sites. The heavy handed measures being taken by the Brazilian government may signal a return to the old, dark days, to a culture of impunity in which persecution, harassment and even the murder of protesters is escalating – all across Brazil.

According to the Catholic Church’s Pastoral Land Commission (CPT), the number of activists threatened in conflicts over land rose from 125 to 347 between 2010 and 2011.

Cícero Guedes, a leader of the landless movement, or MST, which campaigns for land reform and the rights of landless workers, was shot dead in Campos north-east of Rio de Janeiro on the evening of the 25th of January 2013. He was cycling home.

Mr Guedes, a sugar-cane cutter, had recently led an occupation of the nearby Usina Cambahyba sugar plant, in protest at a judge’s ruling that the estate should be expropriated.

Jose Claudio Ribeiro da Silva and his wife Maria were gunned down on a bridge near the reserve of Nova Ipixuna in 2011. Two men were convicted, and landowner Jose Rodrigues Moreira was accused of hiring the assassins to shoot the couple after they opposed the eviction of three families who lived on his farm.

Some had hoped Moreira’s trial would prove to be a landmark in Brazilian land dispute killings – but he was acquitted on April 4th, 2013.

A delegation of laureates from the Right Livelihood Award, otherwise known as the alternative Nobel Prize, organised a mission to Marabá to report on the trial. Marianne Andersson (former Member of the Swedish Parliament), Angie Zelter (Trident Ploughshares) and Dr Raul Montenegro (President of FUNAM, Fundación para la defensa del ambiente) were shocked by the results of the trial. ‘It is unacceptable that people committed to the common good can receive a bullet to the head because they are defending the rights of the dispossessed,’ Dr Montenegro said. ‘The Brazilian government and the Brazilian justice system must put an end to impunity, and the murders.’

Mercedes Queiroz, a friend of the da Silvas, told Al Jazeera English: “Everyone is upset with the verdict. Once more there is a feeling that impunity reigns in the Amazon region.”

In November 2011, Nisio Gomes, a leader of the Guarani Kaiowa tribe was shot dead by a group of 42 armed men who broke into camp in the middle of the night. The men reportedly shot him in the head, chest, arms and legs, before taking his body away in a truck. His body has not been recovered. The Guarani Kaiowa were occupying their ancestral land in Ponta Pora, in the southern state of Mato Grosso do Sul – they had been evicted when the land was given over to cattle ranchers.

In July 2012 ten men from a private security firm were arrested for the murder. They claim landowners hired them to kill Mr Gomes. Six landowners have subsequently been arrested.

It should come as no surprise that land disputes in Brazil are rife, and highly dangerous: when one percent of the population controls 46 percent of the country’s cultivated land. This is a glaring inequity, and it seems the rights of indigenous peoples are the first to be sacrificed in the name of development and profit. If the Brazilian government does not take action to protect those rights, and prosecute criminals with the full weight of the law, murders like these will become all too common.

Mining in Indigenous Territories

The indigenous peoples of Brazil may soon face even greater challenges in their struggle to retain their ancestral land. There is a draft bill on mining currently working its way through the Brazilian Congress, known as Projeto de Lei 1610. Its aim is to open up and regulate large scale mining in indigenous territories.

According to Fiona Watson of Survival International, ‘One of the objectives of the government’s drive to build so many hydro-electric dams in the Amazon is to provide cheap subsidized energy to the mining companies which are poised to mine in indigenous lands.’

There are currently over 4,000 requests to mine in indigenous territories, and new requests are made every day. The mining requests in the Xikrin territories, Xikrin do Catete and Baú in Pará cover 100 percent and 93 percent of the territories respectively. ‘Very worryingly,’ says Watson, ‘there do not appear to be any safeguards in the bill to prevent 100 percent of any given territory being mined.’

In the cases of both Belo Monte and the Tapajós, there is a clear connection between construction of mega-dams and mineral exploitation, both of which have devastating impacts on indigenous cultures their ancestral lands and the environment, since much of the electricity will go to energy-intensive mining industries.

Dams and Development

Those who suffer most from these irresponsible destructive projects rarely see any benefit from them. It is large corporations, investors and the government who profit. As Peter Bosshard writes for International Rivers, ‘Mega-dams and other complex, centralized infrastructure projects have a bad track record in terms of addressing the water and energy needs of the poor and reducing poverty more generally.’

Examination of other megadams across the world does not bode well for the future of the Amazon and its peoples. The Three Gorges dam in China, the largest dam in the world, displaced 1.2 million people, flooded 13 cities and 140 towns. The Brazilian/ Paraguayan Itaipu dam displaced 59,000 people, and destroyed 700 square kilometers of rainforest. In the worst dam disaster in history, the flooding at the Banqiao Dam in China in 1975, 26,000 people died in the flooding and another 145,000 died during subsequent epidemics and famine.

Donor governments came together in Paris, France from March 20 to 21, 2013 to start negotiations for the 17th replenishment of the International Development Association fund. To my surprise, the World Bank is recommending several large dam projects as regional infrastructure initiatives, including the Inga 3 dam on the Congo River, and hydropower projects on the Zambezi River. I hope World Bank President Jim Yong Kim will reconsider this decision.

The World Wild Life Fund (WWF) recently published a report, The Seven Sins of Dam Building. The list of sins is comprehensive: building on the wrong river, neglecting downstream flows, neglecting biodiversity, falling for bad economics, failing to acquire the social license to operate, mishandling risks and impacts and blindly following temptation, and the bias to build.

The WWF report ascribes just five of these evils to Belo Monte. But actually the Belo Monte Dam commits every single one of these sins. This dam is an act of hubris and greed, committed in the name of development – but the real objective is profit.

Belo Monte is being promoted as a source of green energy. As Dr Erwin Kräutler, the Bishop of Xingu, and a staunch opponent of the dam, said to me, ‘they call it a green project. What is green about Belo Monte? It will only be green if they paint the dam green. It used to be green around here. The forest was green.’

Large dams are not sustainable. They are not ‘clean’ energy. But they are lucrative- for some. Large international companies like Alstom, Andritz, Voith Hydro and Daimler, all of whom are involved in the construction of Belo Monte, are profiting from the dam at the expense of the tens of thousands of people who call the Xingu their home. By persisting with this unconscionable project, President Rousseff is failing her people.

The Brazilian government claims that the planned installed capacity of the Belo Monte Dam complex will bring cheap energy to households across Brazil. But it is estimated that only 70% of the energy generated by the megadam will be sold for public consumption. The remaining 30% has already been bought by Eletrobras and earmarked for export, mining and industrial activities.

The farcical, tragic reality is: Belo Monte probably won’t be capable of delivering the promised, massive output. The installed capacity of 11,000 Megawatts (MW) will on average only generate 4,500 MW due to large seasonal variations in river flow. During the dry season, when the river is at its lowest level, the dam will only be able to produce 233 MW.

Which is why there are five other dams planned upstream.

As Philip Fearnside points out, ‘Belo Monte itself is economically unviable because the highly seasonal water flow in the river would leave the 11,000 MW main powerhouse completely idle during 3-4 months out of the year… It suggests that the government and the investors are, in fact, counting on the upstream dams that would flood vast areas of indigenous land and tropical forest.’

A study by Conservation Strategy Fund (CSF) concludes that Belo Monte will not be sustainable without the proposed Altamira (Babaquara) dam which would have a reservoir 12 times the size of Belo Monte’s and would flood indigenous territories of the Araweté/Igarapé Ipixuna, Koatinemo, Arara, Kararaô and Cachoeira Seca do Irirí tribes.

All the evidence suggests that the Brazilian government will need to build more dams to make the Belo Monte Dam viable. Belo Monte is only the beginning.

Conclusion

By prioritising these large infrastructure projects at immense cost to the people and the environment, by suppressing protest with military force, by condoning the appalling conditions in these construction sites, by failing to prevent the murder of protesters and indigenous and grassroots leaders, the Brazilian government is sending the dangerous message that the pursuit of profit prevails over human rights and the rule of law.

These are the facts. If Belo Monte and the other dams are allowed to go ahead, they will devastate the livelihoods of thousands of people among the tribes and communities in the Amazon Basin. A great part of Brazil’s rich, varied cultural heritage will be lost. The dams will destroy enormous tracts of rainforest, unique ecosystems- the like of which cannot be found anywhere else on earth. The patrimony of Brazil will be squandered, and for what? The dams will not provide the energy the country needs.

I add my voice to the indigenous peoples’ appeal to President Rousseff to stop the construction of megadams across the country.

We must support the indigenous peoples and communities whose livelihoods, culture and ancestral lands are threatened by megadams, mining, cattle ranching and illegal logging in the Brazilian Amazon. President Rousseff must examine the government’s current model of development and its policies towards indigenous peoples, local communities and the environment. President Rousseff has a choice. She can steer Brazil towards a sustainable future, based on principles of respect for human rights, good governance, justice, equity and environmental protection. If however the President fails to reform the current model of development, if she continues down this path, Brazil may slip back into an era of violence, exploitation and civil unrest.

 

Related posts

Undermining Human Rights in the Name of Development

Published on Sunday, April 8, 2012 by Common Dreams

When I arrived at Biju Patnaik Airport, Bhubaneswar, Orissa, I was struck by a billboard above the luggage carousel: “Mining happiness for the people of Orissa – Vedanta.”

Vedanta´s Lanjigarh refineryWhat cruel irony. The poster should have read instead, “Undermining happiness for the people of Orissa.” The opening of an aluminum refinery in Lanjigarh, in south-west Orissa in eastern India, by the Vedanta Aluminum Limited (VAL), a subsidiary of British based mining group, Vedanta Resources plc, has brought nothing but misery, disease and impoverishment to the Kondh communities of the area.

Vedanta has received unconditional support from the State of Orissa, to start an open pit bauxite mine in Niyamgiri Mountain. It has also been given the green light from the Supreme Court of India. However the Court has left the final decision with the Ministry of Environments and Forests. The minister, Jairam Ramesh, has told the parliament that Vedanta does not have final forest clearance, a prerequisite for starting the mining work.

If Vedanta’s bauxite mining project is allowed to go ahead it will endanger the very survival of the Kondh, a unique and already vulnerable tribe who have lived there for generations. They rely on the forest and streams to graze livestock and gather food, medicines and vital drinking water. The lush forests of Niyamgiri Mountain are a pristine ecosystem of great conservation significance. So important is the local environment to the Kondh that they consider the mountain to be a living God and claim that their spiritual, cultural and economic well-being are embedded deep within it.

Rivers

The top of Niyamgiri mountain, where the mine is planned, is the source of two rivers, the Vamsadhara and the Nagaveli, and thirty six springs. The Wildlife institute of India states that “it is anticipated that the removal of this layer of bauxite at the top of the mountain which stores water will impact ground waters in the region, and consequently the quality of forest lands.”

The streams that run through the hills are the only source of water for the Kondh: the Central Empowered Committee to the Supreme Court anticipates “adverse effects of mining will affect not only bio-diversity but availability of water for the local people.” Mining operations would result in desiccation, reducing the flow of the two rivers and the streams. The mine will also cause increased erosion and pollution of the water systems, resulting in deteriorated water quality.

The bauxite mine will affect not only the livelihood of the Kondh, but also water sources in the entire surrounding areas.

Journey

In April I traveled to Orissa representing the Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation with Action Aid to meet with the Kondh communities. The journey from London to Niyamgiri was grueling: an 8 hour flight from London to Delhi, a 2 hour flight to Bhubaneswar, a 9 hour train ride to Rayagada, a 2.5 hour car journey, a motorcycle ride and finally a hike on foot. The road conditions were treacherous. At one point our car skidded into a ditch and 15 men had to pull us out.

Niyamgiri Mountain: the planned location for Vedanta’s bauxite mine.There are approximately 80 million tribal people (‘Adivasi’) in India, 73% of whom live below the poverty line. The Kondh population is approximately 15 000; most of them live in the state of Orissa. There are 3 distinct groups of Kondh: the Dongria (hill dwellers), the Jharania (who live near the streams) and the Kutia (who live in the plains). Despite vast investment in mining and related industries in Orissa, it remains one of India’s poorest states; around 46% of Orissa’s families live below the poverty line, earning less than 15,100 rupees, the equivalent of US$ 330 per year. Most of these communities are Adivasis living in rural Orissa.

During my journey to Orissa I visited various villages, including Rengopali, Bandhaguda and Tamaksila. At every stage of my trip, at every village the communities and their leaders were eager to tell me their tragic side of the story.

The Kondh’s testimonies exposed the modus operandi of Vedanta as fraught with human right violations, intimidation and manipulation of the law. The government of Orissa is contributing to the demise of the Kondh, by continually favoring the interests of Vedanta, and ignoring laws that recognize tribal rights. In collusion with the State authorities, Vedanta is using the local police to forcibly displace people and crush the indigenous land rights movement.

According to the Site Inspection Report commissioned by the Ministry of Environment and Forests and conducted between the 26th January and 1st February 2010, by a forestry official, a former government wildlife official and an independent sociology expert, the government of Orissa, “has received material assistance from Vedanta… This is a disturbing state of affairs and needs to be checked if the neutrality of the state is to be maintained.”

In 2008 the Supreme Court of India ordered that a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) should be set up to ensure sustainable development of local communities, protection of environment and conservation of wildlife. According to an Amnesty International Report, Sterlite India has 49% stake in this SPV, the government of Orissa has 26% and the Orissa Mining Corporation the remaining 25%.

In 2002 Vedanta approached the communities surrounding Lanjigarh, informing them that they were going to build a factory. Vedanta promised employment for everyone, assuring the Kondh that only one village would be displaced. Instead, Vedanta built the Lanjigarh refinery, which stands in a 750 hectare complex, next to the Vamsadhara river, the main source of water for drinking, cooking, washing, irrigation and cattle for the local people, and many villages downstream.

Local residents told me that some had received notices from the Kalahandi District administration telling them that their land was to be compulsorily acquired for the refinery. In 2003 Vedanta forced the community of Kinari to vacate their village. Vedanta coerced farmers into selling their land for far below its market value. In contravention of the 5th and 6th Schedules of the Constitution of India, hundreds of people have been displaced. The few people who had titles to their land or records given by the revenue department (TATA) were promised 100,000 rupees per acre. Those without titles were promised a one off settlement of 50,000 to give all their rights away. Worse still, those willing to give up their homes were promised up to 1,000 rupees. According to a report by Amnesty International in 2009, 118 families were fully displaced and a further 1,220 families sold their farmlands to Vedanta. It is believed that Vedanta now owns over 3000 acres of land, including forest land. Vedanta is currently seeking clearance for the compulsory acquisition of an additional 1,340 hectares of land, for expanding the refinery.

Although the Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas Act (or PESA) of 1996, grants village councils (‘Gaon Sabha’) certain political, administrative and fiscal powers, in Orissa, the election of village councils has been indefinitely postponed. Vedanta has violated the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, passed in India on 18 December 2006 (also known as ‘Tribal Rights Act’ and the ‘Forest Rights Act’), which grants forest-dwelling communities the right to land and other resources. In addition, no comprehensive Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) which is a prerequisite for Clearance under the Environment Protection Act, has been carried out. Furthermore the rapid Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) conducted in 2005 was not made available to the public.

The Kondh have been coerced into giving up their homes, their land, and their means of survival, in the name of ‘public purpose.’ They were promised employment and prosperity. Instead, they got the Lanjigarh refinery. Vedanta claims that the refinery employs 200 local people; in fact, I was told that the mine is run by 57 foreign nationals. The refinery has brought nothing but disease, impoverishment, and environmental degradation to the local communities.

Rengopali

When I arrived at Rengopali the villagers told me how they used to grow millet, beans and peas. They harvested leaves, pineapple, jackfruit, mango, banana, chillies, ginger, turmeric, bamboo and roots from the forest. Fresh water was plentiful. The Kondh used to own 400 acres of land. Now they have been left with only 60 acres. They are fighting to retain that remaining land, their forest and their place of worship. “Every day is a struggle to survive.”

Living with toxic waste: The red mud pond near Rengopalli. (Photo/Mahim Pratap Singh)The refinery has created two red mud ponds the size of several football pitches near Rengopali into which bauxite ore is washed, along with chemicals, causing toxic fumes and polluted dust. Lutni Majhi, a woman living in Rengopali, told me, “Now, not only is it hot during the day, it is hot at night as the refinery is functioning all the time. Before, we had forest and trees around us, it was much cooler.” “We’ve never had this much heat, flies and mosquitoes.” The water sources are exposed to dangerous contamination. The red mud pond is now being expanded. Vedanta has tried to destroy and close a village road which children use for going to school. Their recent attempt to block this road failed but they are determined to deny access to the villagers.

The local people are suffering the consequences of pollution caused by the refinery. New diseases affecting peoples’ lungs and eyes are already widespread. According to the Site Inspection Report, 13 people have died from TB in the last 2 years and 200 to 250 cattle and goats have perished. I spoke to a man who is dying from an unidentified respiratory illness resembling TB. When I spoke to his wife, she told me that the hospital could not diagnose her husbands’ illness. She was distraught; she fears that she too will be left alone to fend for herself and their children.

The Kondh have suffered grave violations of their human rights to water, food, health, work and an adequate standard of living, including a healthy environment.

“The refinery has built its walls right here making our access to the river very difficult. The water we use now is contaminated with ash pond waste. Our children have blisters and skin problems.”

Bandhaguda

In Bandhaguda, which is less than two hundred meters from the refinery, the villagers told me a particularly disturbing story. When Vedanta started to cut the forest to build the refinery, the villagers organized a protest in front of the construction site. Four hundred people from the community, including women and children, demonstrated. The police arrested all the men, keeping them in jail for seven days. When they were released they were told they had become outcast and needed to go to Puri to pray and redeem themselves, at the Lord Jagannath’s Temple. The State police were used alongside Vedanta company goons to forcibly take them to far off Puri. When the men of the village were brought back, the walls around the refinery were already built. Their ancestral graveyard was destroyed when the area was illegally enclosed in the Vedanta refinery compound in violation of Customary Law.

Niyamgiri

On the 3rd day of my visit we made our way to one of the Dongria Kondh villages, Tamaksila, about 30 km’s from Rayagada. The Dongria Kondh are considered by the Indian government to be an endangered Primitive Tribal Group (PTG) and are recognized as “a people requiring particular protection.”

It is near Tamaksila, at the top of Nyamgiri, that Vedanta proposes to mine bauxite to feed the refinery that is currently poisoning the communities around Bandhaguda and Rangapoli. If it goes ahead, the mine will destroy the livelihood and way of life of the Dongria Kondh communities. The very existence of the Dongria Kondh is hanging in the balance.

The Dongria Kondh consider the remote hills — home to their god, Niyam Raja — sacred, and they also depend on the hills for their livelihood. For the past eight years they have been fighting to protect their land and way of life. The tribe had gained the support of NGOs including Amnesty International and Survival International, which ran a successful global campaign comparing the Dongria Kondh’s plight to the Na’vi tribe in the film “Avatar.”The Government of Orissa failed to inform the Kondh of their rights under the Forest Rights Act and Vedanta did not warn them of the potentially devastating impact of its project. According to a report from the UK National Contact Point for the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, “Vedanta failed to engage the Dongria Kondh in adequate and timely consultations about the construction of the mine…Vedanta did not respect the rights and freedoms of the Dongria Kondh consistent with India’s commitments under various international human rights instruments, including the UN international covenant on civil and political rights, the UN convention on the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination, the convention on biological diversity and the UN declaration on the rights of indigenous people.”

The path to Tamaksila had been dug up, apparently for the purpose of laying an asphalt road to connect the villages in the mountain to the Panchayat. I learned that the real reason is to give access to Vedanta. The deep trenches on the path made it difficult for us to drive both vehicles up to the village and it was decided that one vehicle would transport some of us up and the rest would make their way on foot.

We finally reached the village after another 20 minutes’ drive. Before us stood quiet mud huts with thatched roofs, holding Mahua tree hay and flowers that had been put there to dry. The only sounds to be heard were bird calls, the mooing of the indigenous breeds of cows, and the flurry of the poultry scattered by our vehicle.

Our hosts took us further down the path that passed through the village. Suddenly in front of us stood a large gathering of more than 100 members of one of the oldest surviving indigenous people: the Dongria Kondh. Many of them had walked 10 km’s or more from their villages further up in the hill just to meet us and share their concerns about the imminent threat to their sacred mountain and to their way of life.

I was very moved by the beauty of the place and the unforgettable sight of the Dongria Kondh community waiting for us. As soon as we came up the hill they announced our arrival with drum beats and began their traditional welcoming ceremony. Two young men with handmade drums started singing a slow rhythmic song about Niyamgiri. A group of beautiful young girls started singing in tune with the boys and dancing arm-in-arm. Like their life in the mountains their music too was peaceful and rhythmic. The lyrics were poignant. It eulogized the mountain and listed the gifts the mountain gave to them. I was told how their struggle had made its way into all of their songs. The song ended with the line, “we will not leave Niyamgiri”.

A group of smiling women surrounded me and put their arms around my waist, leading me to my assigned seat. Before I sat down, they gave me a beautiful bouquet of scented flowers and put a garland of flowers they had picked from the mountain around my neck. They welcomed everyone with the traditional ‘tika’ on our foreheads, made with the paste of turmeric and rice.

The women and girls were wearing their traditional colorful clothes, beaded jewelery, hair pins, ear and nose rings, and head necklaces. In contrast, the men wore plain dhotis. Many had long hair tied into a knot in the nape of their necks. In traditional fashion some were carrying axes on their shoulders and in their hands. One could already see the influence of ‘development’ in some of the young men wearing shirts and t-shirts, as opposed to the older men of the tribe sitting bare-chested and breaking into song every now and then.

We all sat around in a circle. They brought us chairs to sit on; but the men women and children of the Dongria Kondh sat on the ground. As soon as I asked questions they stood up and began to tell me with great urgency their concerns and fears that Vedanta was going to destroy their mountain and their livelihood.

Kuleska Patru one of the leaders of the Dongria Kondh told me, with passion and determination, “We will not leave Niyamgiri.” Without our mountain, our god, there is no life for us; we will resist the forced expulsion till death.” “Just as a fish cannot survive outside of water, the Kondh cannot survive without Niyamgiri.” The message the Kondh asked me to bring to the Indian Government, the Chief Minister of Orissa, Vedanta and their shareholders and to the people at large was loud and clear: “We are prepared to die rather than abandon our sacred mountain; we don’t know how to survive in the outside world”. “No amount of financial reward or relocation packages can compensate for the loss of our livelihood and our sacred land.” “Please tell Vedanta that the Kondh do not want the mine to be built.”

Their hope is that the Government of India and the Chief Minister of Orissa, Naveen Patnaik will respect their livelihood, their culture, and their fundamental human rights and prevent Vedanta from causing the irreversible destruction of Niyamgiri Mountain, by allowing it to become another industrial wasteland.

A Redefinition of Development

I have campaigned on these issues for nearly three decades, so I speak from first hand experience when I say that the Kondh tribe’s battle to save their livelihood illustrates the struggle for survival that tribal and indigenous people are facing throughout the world.

When I read Arundhati Roy’s essay “Walking with the Comrades” it brought back memories of the abuses I witnessed in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Ecuador, Guatemala, Peru and Brazil, amongst others. The struggle of tribal and indigenous people vs. corporations and states, over ancestral land rich in natural resources, is a global issue. Throughout history indigenous and tribal people have been oppressed and forcibly expelled from their ancestral land, their rights violated with impunity by governments that put the interest of corporations above their survival. This combination of factors has often led them to resort to armed struggle, in order to protect their families, their land, their livelihoods and their culture. Last year in Peru, hundreds of Amazonian Indians were wounded and arrested in clashes over oil and timber.

Vedanta’s modus operandi is not an isolated case. People in the developing world have been victims of exploitation for centuries. Today, exploitation is no longer carried out by colonial adventurers aiming to discover new horizons for spices, tobacco or slaves. Now, it is often carried out by powerful businessmen representing mining, oil and gas or logging companies. These policies are being implemented “in the name of progress and development.” The mantra is “maximum production, minimum cost and open markets.”

The Indian state, enticed by visions of joining the developed world, is pursuing policies that use the same senseless tactics as the colonial powers of the last century. How is it possible that governments continue to pursue such irrational development policies, which blatantly undermine the basic human rights of tribal and indigenous people and the poorest sectors of society?

In addition to endangering the livelihoods of thousands of people, devastating the environment, wiping out precious biodiversity, fauna and flora and causing catastrophic climate change, the actions of these states and corporations have another important and often overlooked consequence: they are causing irreversible damage to the world in which future generations must live.

According to the UN, companies have a responsibility to respect human rights wherever they do business. It is deplorable that local inhabitants should have to implore and appeal to the better nature of shareholders and company executives to protect their human rights, their homes and their livelihoods. Companies who violate this fundamental right should be held accountable in a court of law.

In the 21st century, we need to redefine the meaning of “development.” It must be sustainable. Any development project must take into account the needs and aspirations of the local communities, and should benefit all sectors of society. Respect for human rights and the environment must be a priority. As Our Common Future, the report published by the UN’s Brundtland Commission states, development must “meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” The criteria for “development” need to be more holistic – instead of focussing on GDP, we need to take Human Development Indicators (poverty, health, mortality, education) into account, when assessing a ‘development’ project.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) refers to a commitment to business activity that promotes environmental, economic and social benefit. Today, CSR is often used as a window-dressing, by corporations for their commercial benefit, to improve their image with the public or with government. We just have to look at Vedanta’s PR campaign for evidence of this. We must ensure that CSR becomes an integral part of business practice. Corporations must follow through with their pledges, to adhere to ethical standards, corporate responsibility and sustainable practice. These principles have to be enforceable – not as voluntary measures, but as a legally binding mechanism in international law. Corporate Social Responsibility is not only about how corporations spend their money, but about how they make it.

There has been some success in our campaign to hold Vedanta accountable. In February this year the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust and the Church of England demonstrated their commitment to human rights and ethical investment by disinvesting from Vedanta. Edinburgh-based investment management company Martin Currie sold its £2.3m stake in Vedanta in 2008 on ethical grounds. In 2007 the Norway pension fund withdrew its investment of $15.6m based on the findings of its ethics committee, which stated: “Allegations leveled at Vedanta regarding environmental damage and complicity in human rights violations, including abuse and forced eviction of tribal people, are well founded.”

It is my hope that the Indian government and particularly the Government of Orissa will do everything in its power to prevent Vedanta from endangering the survival of the Kondh. It is not too late to force Vedanta to adhere to ethical codes of practice that respect human and environmental rights. This may be our last chance to help the Kondh and prevent their way of life from disappearing altogether.

When I attended Vedanta’s AGM last year, I spoke to Sitaram Kulisika, who was representing the Kondh people at the meeting. I was very moved by his compelling testimony, his commitment to his homeland, and his people: “Once they start mining, the mountain will be bulldozed and the rivers will dry up and our livelihood will be lost,” he said. “We don’t know how to adapt and survive and our way of living is not available in the cities. We will be extinct.”

To find out more information about the Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation campaign against Vedanta, befriend Bianca Jagger Kondh Campaign on Facebook.

© 2012 Bianca Jagger

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Open letter to Participants of Vedanta’s Creating Happiness

Dear  Film-makers

I request you to have a look at my two open letters to Shyam benegal and Piyush Pandey on the creating happiness competition available here

https://kractivist.wordpress.com/2012/02/22/open-letter-to-piyush-pandey-on-vedantas-creating-happiness/

https://kractivist.wordpress.com/2012/02/20/open-letter-to-shyam-benegal-on-vedantas-creating-happiness/

After  Reading  my open letter , Mr  Shyam  Benegal, who was in the jury of your competition  withdrew  knowing that the Creating  Happiness   is just  Vedanta  PR  exercise to promote themselves. The other jury Member Gul Panag informed me on twitter that she withdrew precisely for the same reason on Feb 12th 2012. Now your three member jury has just one member Mr Piyush Pandey, the creator the Ad . This campaign  is a move that eyewashes people and drifts away from all the sins committed by Vedanta. Do you know Vedanta kept a secret from you about their work in Odisha? If you look at your own film list, you will see that only two of the 38 films in the competition are from Odisha. And these films do not give the REAL PICTURE at all; you can find more in Tehlka story here story_main51.asp?filename=Ne030312Creating.asp

Let me share another secret with you all, when I first saw the Ad I fell in love with Binoo, and I thought it was an Advertisement by the Government of India   to promote girl child, An enchanting face of girl child from Rajasthan, and since I am also working on issue of dwindling child sex ratio, the theme of Ad “Binno can smile and she can dream”, made me smile too. But then as the Ad  ended, it was saying VEDANTA creating happiness, it struck be Omi Gosh, it’s a CSR ad of Vedanta, looking for mending its tarnished image worldwide . Vedanta in the ad makes the tall claims that they have helped and supported people, it also patronises the history and poverty when the ad says “shayad iski maan kabhi hansi nahi? And in the end stating our work is in collaboration “with Govt and  NGOs “giving it’s a certificate of being honest is it?

Suppose if Vedanta Officials had said that they provide mid-day meals for 250,000 children? Or that they also provide healthcare for over 2.2 million people and computer education for 1 million students? Or that they work closely with over 3,000 aanganwadis across states like Orissa, Rajasthan, Goa and Chhattisgarh to address the nutritional needs of 125,000 children? Do you think people will believe, obviously not? They chose the brilliant filmmaker Piyush Pandey to tell their story through Binnoo, a little girl from Rajasthan (not in Orissa), or her brothers Nandu or Gosthto to tell you that story through their lives.  And they have hit on the right pulse, the heart of people sure, BUT whether it’s true or fake? The quality of the production of the advertisement and the scale of its dissemination has ensured the success of its message.

The impact can be read in a comment by Priyanka on my blog to the open letter, which voices the feelings of many

I had been admiring the ad all these days and this was the first time that I heard about ‘Vedanta’. The ad creates such a strong and positive brand impression….after reading through your article I detest the fact that some people in our country have the guts to actually create such positive imageries for organizations such as Vedanta…it makes me feel sick! If the Govt doesn’t care shouldn’t media care? Shouldn’t the ad agencies also care to check facts sometimes? But who are we kidding here….I’m waiting to see how Piyush reacts to this? What press statements would follow? What kind of cover ups would happen…..it’s a really selfish world! I wish I could do something more than just sharing this on FB as I just did

Vedanta has been fighting a negative perception battle which has been eroding its corporate brand equity. There has been an international debate over excessive mining versus human rights and environmental violations. In the name of progress and development” and their mantra is “maximum production” and “minimum cost.” The struggle of indigenous and tribal people versus corporations and states, over land rich in natural resources, is a global issue. The Kondh tribes have been battling to save their livelihood against British based mining company, Vedanta Resources.  This is not the first time, they haves used mass media. In 2010, when the human rights violations by Company in Odisha were at peak, it roped in Leo Burnett to prepare a television Ad, ironically titled

Bianca Jagger (former partner of   Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger) founder and chair of the Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation, was in India  in 2010 to visit the Niyamgiri Hills in Orissa where the local population is opposed to the setting up of a bauxite mine.

”My visit to the Kondh brought back memories of what I have witnessed in Nicaragua and throughout Latin America. The struggle of indigenous and tribal people versus corporations and states, over ancestral land rich in natural resources, is not a new issue; nor is it unique to India. Throughout history they have been oppressed and forcibly expelled from their ancestral land, their rights violated with impunity by governments that have put the interest of corporations above their survival. I have campaigned for human rights, social justice and environmental protection throughout the world for nearly thirty years. During that period I have seen first-hand the devastating effects the irrational exploitation of our natural resources has had on the environment, communities and indigenous and tribal people.

At Vedanta’s shareholders AGM on July 28th 2010, I asked chairman Anil Agarwal if he would accept the findings of the Saxena committee. Non- executive director, Naresh Chandra replied, “Whatever the government of India decide, we will accept.” I hope that Vedanta stands by this statement. The company has an appalling track record – it has shown no respect for human rights, the environment or for local communities. Until Vedanta adheres to Corporate and Social Responsibility and is willing to comply with OECD guidelines, and agrees to fully inform and consult local communities, I do not think the company should be allowed to mine. ” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bianca-jagger/a-landmark-victory-for-in_b_692857.html)

Now tell me isn’t it ironical that a Corporate Mining  Giant accused of so many human rights violations against the tribals of Kondh, will improve its brand equity image through this short film competition , Thanks to you ?

I request you to reconsider your decision to participate in the competition, because in reality all of you are enhancing the image of Vedanta as a benevolent saviour and protector.

Please do sign online petition and share widely

Anticipating a positive reply from all of you

Warm regards

Kamayani Bali Mahabal

Mumbai

You can email me at – [email protected]

(Please do help me reach out to the 114  film makers, who have contributed to the festival

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