Tensions increased between Brazil and the OAS on Wednesday with Brazilian officials boycotting a meeting by the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). The Commission has been trying to find a solution to the conflicts between the indigenous populations and the Brazilian government concerning the construction of the Belo Monte Hydroelectric Dam on the Xingu River, in the Amazon Region.
The Belo Monte Dam, if constructed, will be the third largest hydroelectric plant in the world, only behind China’s Three Gorges and Itaipu, the hydroelectric plant built on the border between Brazil and Paraguay. The hydroelectric facility is expected to cost US$ 11 billion with a capacity to produce over 11,000 megawatts of power and supply more than 25 million people with electricity. The project will flood an area equivalent to 500 sq km along the Xingu River, forcing those who live along the riverside to relocate.
The IACHR requested earlier this year for the Brazilian government to stop its plans for Belo Monte, stating that the impact of the dam on the area’s indigenous population would be devastating. Brazilian officials reacted badly to what they saw as IACHR ‘meddling’, stating that it was the country’s right to decide where to build its dams. In a statement issued earlier this year, the government said that all social and environmental protection measures were being taken care of.
Earlier this week, Mines and Energy Minister, Edison Lobao reiterated the country’s intention of spending approximately R$ 214 billion in hydroelectric projects throughout the country in the next 10 years. According to Lobao, energy from hydroelectric plants is ‘the cleanest and cheapest form of energy available for Brazil today’.
In a seminary organized by financial daily Valor Economico, Lobao said that ‘to maintain the rhythm of its development, Brazil would not give up the opportunity to use the wealth nature provided and which the country has preserved until today’.
The news that the Brazilian government would not even attempt to sit down to discuss the problem left many non-governmental agencies and indigenous leaders furious. Sheyla Juruna, a leader of the Juruna Tribe travelled from the Xingu River to Washington DC to hear what government officials had to say. Juruna was quoted by IPS News Service as saying, “the government’s constant refusal to engage in dialogue and its un-diplomatic posturing shows its negligence as it sidesteps the law and ignores the rights of local peoples.”
According to Amazon Watch, Brazil’s boycott may set a dangerous precedent for sustainable development. Jacob Kopas, attorney for the Inter-American Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA) stated that this hurts Brazil’s image as a regional leader and host of environmental conferences such as Rio + 20, to be held in Rio de Janeiro in June of 2012.
Brazil’s decision ‘represents a radical change in Brazil’s foreign policy,” Andressa Caldas head of Global Justice said at a news conference on Monday, after the announcement of the government’s decision to boycott the meeting. This “abrupt change, without precedent in the democratic history of Brazil, indicates a breakdown of dialogue within the multilateral (OAS) system,” Caldas said at the conference.
Wednesday’s boycott is just another in a series of actions taken by the Brazilian government to show its displeasure in the IACHR position. In April the Brazilian government withdrew its nomination of Paulo Vannuchi to sit on the IACHR board and has yet to make its annual contribution of US$ 6 million to the institution.