Dam Affected People Occupy Tractebel Headquarters in Rio

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil, October 30, 2001 (ENS) - About 350 men, women, and children from across Brazil, have taken over the headquarters of the Belgian transnational company Tractebel in Rio de Janeiro. Tractebel is the part owner of the electric utility Gerasul, and is constructing controversial dams in Brazil.

The takeover is part of a National Mobilization by the Brazilian Movement of Dam-Affected People (MAB), with various dams occupied and public demonstrations taking place in different regions.

The demonstrators are hoping to convince Tractebel to open negotiations with them. The company has been unfair, they say, in the way it has treated people affected by its dams such as the Ita in Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina states, and the Cana Brava dam on the Tocantins River in the central-western region of Brazil.

MAB charges that Tractebel has failed to address outstanding resettlement and compensation issues with 200 families whose problems are as yet unresolved at Ita despite the fact that the dam is now fully operational.

At Cana Brava, a dam financed by the Inter-American Development Bank, the situation is even more serious, says Glenn Switkes with the Latin America Campaigns section of the International Rivers Network.

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Nova Ponte hydropower plant, built by Tractebel's Brazilian entity, Leme Engenharia (Photo courtesy Leme Engenharia)
He says that hundreds of families are still not receiving compensation, and most of the compensation already prescribed is of such low value that is does not permit the rehabilitation of displaced families.

"Most of the sharecroppers, renters, fishermen, and artisanal gold miners who worked along the river are being ignored by the company, as well as many families who will be isolated by the formation of the reservoir," said Switkes.

According to national coordinator Helio Mecca of MAB, "Tractebel has refused to consider the needs of populations who will lose everything when the floodgates on Cana Brava are closed."

Tomorrow, communities affected by the Corumba IV dam in Goias state will be in the Brazilian capital of Brasilia to deliver their complaints to the federal government.

Protests took place Monday at Manso dam in the state of Mato Grosso, and Fumaca dam in Minas Gerais state, among others. The Rio Manso system supplies the water for the Metropolitan Region of Belo Horizonte, state capital of Minas Gerais.

The protesters halted their occupation of the headquarters offices of state electric company Furnas, after the company agreeed to review resettlement and compensation measures at Manso and at Serra da Mesa dam.

Tractebel officials could not be immediately reached for comment on the demonstrations.

The Belgian company prides itself on its environmental policy. While not specifically mentioning dams on its website, Tractebel says its emissions of carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide have been reduced to below the limits laid down by the European Union, and it has cut the quantity of low-level radioactive waste produced by its nuclear power stations by more than half since 1989.

New techniques for incineration, biodigestion and selective collection, sorting and recycling of solid and liquid waste it has developed, the company says, allow more domestic and industrial waste to be converted into products or electrical energy.

And Transbel says its high performance generating facilities, with "modern, flexible cogeneration units," will foster "sustainable economic development."

But the MAB demonstrators do not share Transbel's definition of sustainable. MAB wants its actions to stimulate a discussion of an alternative energy model for Brazil which will prioritize energy alternatives and halt the construction of large dams, "which cause incalculable environmental and social damages," MAB says.