energy policy has been focused creating the best conditions
for large corporations in
the sector, guaranteeing huge profits with the production and
sale of electric energy in Brazil.
against the Movement of People Affected by Dams
we have witnessed a strong offensive from corporations in the
electric energy sector against social activists who defend the
rights of populations impacted by dams. As the resistance of
the river communities against the current energy model has
grown stronger, the actions taken by the police force against
these communities has also intensified.
the same time that the judicial system reversed earlier claims
for resettlement, the police used violent actions to disperse
demonstrations along highways, invaded and destroyed
encampments, and even prevented affected communities from
self-expression. Some members of these communities were
violently expelled from public hearings intended to openly
discuss dam projects. Police repression has increased during
the displacement of people who refused to abandon their lands
and houses, which will be taken by dam projects. In these
cases, the police forced families to leave their homes, which
were demolished or set on fire, as a means of preventing
people from returning home.
example of this situation occurred in 2004, when the Candonga
dam in Minas Gerais impacted an entire community. In the
village of São Sebastião do Soberbo, dozens of families
resisted for weeks against the onslaughts of Military Police
(with support of the Federal Police) to carry out the eviction
of all families in the area. In the end, with the increase of
permanent police forces occupying the village, the families
were not able to prevent the bulldozers from destroying their
on March 8th, 2005, 35 people were wounded during a
public hearing to discuss the construction of the Jurumirim
dam in the city of Rio Casca. The police beat women and
children, and six people appointed as leaders of the Movement
of People Affected by Dams (MAB, the Portuguese acronym) were
the state of Pará, Army troops (with authorization to act as
police forces) arrived in March of 2005 to “protect” the
installations of a hydroelectric dam at Tucuruí, where two
decades earlier 30 thousand people were driven off their land,
the majority still without reparation even today.
recently, on October 5, 2005, 50 police officers invaded and
completely destroyed an encampment of farmers near Rio Canoas,
in the region affected by the dams of Campos Novos, in Santa
Catarina state. After this action, the troops proceeded to
other encampment situated near the construction site of
another dam, where a farmer was arrested.
are only some examples of the treatment received by river
populations who are organized in the fight to guarantee their
rights. But what calls even more attention to the tactics used
by the government and the electric companies in combating the
organization of the affected populations is the political
repression, threats, and attempts to criminalize the leaders
and supporters of this fight.
survey conducted in the Uruguai River Basin, in the south of
Brazil, concluded that 107 activists are facing lawsuits. This
is a common practice by energy corporations to prevent people
from defending their rights.
In the southern region of Brazil, the main leadership
of MAB responded to more than 15 lawsuits. The briefs of the
lawsuits add up to more than 30 thousand pages. Thirty-six
people prosecuted for criminal lawsuits were given penalties
ranging from 1 to 30 years of imprisonment for participating
in the Movement, and nine people were served a lawsuit
requesting R$ 1 million compensation in damages to the
hydroelectric facility at Campos Novos. Moreover, lawyers and
supporters of MAB are also listed in the lawsuits, as a way of
coercing them to stop their support for the Movement.
majority of the lawsuits relate to social mobilizations, such
as marches, road blockades, and occupation of the construction
sites surrounding dam projects. However, a large number of
popular mobilizations resulted in important results, such as
the re-settlement of hundreds of families. These achievements
indicate that the demonstrators were right in their claims,
despite the fact that the construction companies insisted in
denying reparation to the communities.
lawsuits had the objective of intimidating the affected
populations and their supporters. Another goal was to weaken
their leadership, because they need to spend a significant
part of their time defending themselves, when they could be
organizing. Criminalization also seeks to discredit the
impacted communities before public opinion, branding them as
marginal outsiders and outlaws. The construction companies
usually count on the support of the mainstream media.
large part of the lawsuits are based on accusations such as
vindication and inciting of crime, threats and material
damage. However, the strongest affects on public opinion are
the accusations of the “formation of criminal gangs” bent
on using illegal practices such as “extortion”.
In many cases, the Brazilian judicial system considers
a social movement to be like a lawless “gang”.
This was the conclusion of Judge Adriana Lisboa. In
March 2005, she ordered the preventive imprisonment of 10
leaders of MAB in the region of the Campo Novos, in Santa
Catarina. For Judge Lisboa, as impacted populations became
organized in search for resettlement, they represented a
“criminal gang” to extort money from companies building
arrests declared by Judge Adriana Lisboa were a way to stop
demonstrations scheduled for May 14th, the
International Day of the Fight against Dams, as well as
demonstrations expected to be held on March 22nd,
during the commemoration of the International Day of Water.
The military operation to carry out the arrests occurred at
dawn on Saturday, March 12th 2005, and involved
approximately 60 military police officers. On that day, five
farmers were arrested. The police also confiscated private and
village property, including 16 cars and a public school bus.
Because of the apprehension, 55 students could not go to
Monday March 14th another rural worker was
imprisoned, responding to a police summons when he went to the
Campos Novos police station. The police did not find him at
home and broke into his house.
that day, there were 20 police cars with approximately 60
heavily armed police, acting at dawn to search through the
small properties where the farmers lived. They broke down
doors, destroyed furniture, damaged vehicles, and destroyed
temporary canvas dwellings or tents while destroying banners
that read “water is for life, not for death”.
The Judge, Adriana Lisboa, ordered that the farmers
surrender their personal “firearms.” The legal proceedings
of the police report reveal that the following kinds of
“firearms” were confiscated:
a 1,500 page ream of A4 paper; 56 training notebooks
entitled “the organization of MAB”; eight No. 6 notebooks
entitled “the crisis of the energy model”; varied
informative pamphlets referring to MAB; one box of white
chalk; three blue pens and one black ballpoint pen and one
speaker system with a CD player, amplifier, and tweeters. The
sound equipment was used during grassroots demonstrations.
military police applied a lot of pressure upon families of the
protesters who were arrested. They kept women and children
detained in their own homes for hours, where they were
threatened and injured in various ways. Many of the rural
farmers were imprisoned while they were working at planting
being informed of their charges, this group of farmers was
taken to the Campos Novos police station, and then transferred
to the Regional Penitentiary of Joacaba, located 120
kilometers away. The formal charges against them were only
announced ten days later.
charges against six prisoners were revoked twenty-three days
after their arrest, because they were willing to declare,
“That they did not plan to promote acts against public
order”. Another four people sought by the police turned
themselves over to the authorities and stayed in prison for
fifteen days, between April and May 2005.
They were subsequently released for the same reasons.
is important to point out that the same Judge that ordered the
arrests obtained a Report published by the Foundation of the
Environment of the State of Santa Catarina (FATMA). FATMA is
the environmental agency responsible for issuing the permit
allowing for the operation of the hydroelectric generator at
Campos Novos. The Report consisted of a survey and
case-by-case documentation of 237 families that participated
in the protests. The Report officially confirmed that these
communities were impacted and therefore, entitled to receive
Judge Adriana Lisboa did nothing to demand that the companies
that control the dam, such as Bradesco Bank, and Group
Votorantin, among others, compensate the families. When the
arrests were ordered, the Judge described the families as
outside extortionists demanding rights they did not have.
Despite her knowledge of the FATMA Report, the Judge
continued to ignore the community’s urgent requests.
events at Campos Novos represent a broader issue. This type of
repression has happened many times, as the economic, social,
cultural, and environmental rights of these communities are
addition, the legal process of issuing environmental permits
for operating dams is usually marked with fraud and
irregularities. The decisions to approve dam projects are not
entirely technical. They are the result of political decisions
usually favoring big corporations. The government is afraid of
driving away “investors,” who don’t want to have the
obligation of giving reparations to people affected by their
A large part of these communities lived for generations
by the rivers, taking their sustenance from food production
and fishing. Some of these communities are being destroyed. In
the regions where there is no organized movements, the impact
is more brutal, and many affected families end up in the
periphery of Brazil’s large cities.