Have you noticed lately that Brazil has been in the international spotlight… a lot? It seems like every week I see some new headline about Brazil in relation to:1) a major international convention, 2) a major international sports event or 3) an issue involving development in the Amazon. The attention is good, bad and/ or controversial simultaneously almost all the time. What’s happening in Brazil is important for so many reasons that I think it’s crucial to follow these major events, analyze them, and hopefully see how they play out. This blog series, starting with this post, will over the course of the summer look at these events in the larger context of what’s happening in Brazil.
Recently I’ve seen a few news articles covering the controversy surrounding the construction of the Belo Monte dam. Problems in the Amazon, and even in Brazil, are nothing new. This is really just your latest example of the clash between one country’s economic development versus the rights of its indigenous citizens. But, what makes this issue different is that it’s set to the backdrop of the Rio+20 conference and its focus on all things sustainable development.
Brazil is moving forward in terms of economic development, but at what price? The rights of its indigenous people. At its simplest, this is exactly what Rio+20 looks to address: “how we can reduce poverty, advance social equity and ensure environmental protection”? The dam threatens to relocate people; pay monetary compensation that 1) likely has very little value to an indigenous tribe that highly values their land and the livelihood they make off it or 2) undervalues their property; and blatantly just disregards talking with them in the planning process.
These are obvious disadvantages, but what about the benefits? Do they outweigh the harm done to these people? It seems unlikely. Yes, they say that up to 40,000 jobs will be created, but with up to 20,000 people potentially displaced, this number doesn’t seem so great (not to mention once construction stops, many of these workers will be out of work). The hydroelectric dam is also supposed to generate clean energy or get rid of blackouts that occur in households, but there is speculation that this could end up going to industries more than people. There are more, but the gist is that even the upsides have downsides (something both sides of the issue can no doubt argue).
So, groups are out protesting the dam at Rio+20 and it’s becoming a very interesting part of the conference. Where you have the Brazilian president praising the dam as a clean, sustainable energy, you have hundreds of protestors outside making it impossible to ignore the question of “At what social cost?” This is perfect timing in that this specific issue serves as a perfect example for what Rio+20 is trying to tackle.
Renewable and clean energy is wonderful, but not when it is approached it in a way that anyone else that doesn’t follow your agenda is disregarded. There’s no perfect compromise to this issue, but there are ways to alleviate the disadvantages on both sides of the issue. It’s apparent that the Rio+20’s host country needs to pay attention to what’s discussed during the conference. Perhaps the country will serve as the model for the dilemma between social equity and sustainable development. I can only hope there is an element of self-awareness to this conference wherein participants/ countries/ whoever can use this as an opportunity to identify their own faults and weaknesses and move forward from there towards social equity and environmental sustainability for everyone.