Cycles of Wealth in Brazil’s Amazon: Gold, Lumber, Cattle and Now, Energy

Aerial view of the TelesPires Hydropower Plant, which has been operating since 2015.With an installed capacity of 1,820 MW, it is the biggest plant on the TelesPires River, which runs across the west-central state of MatoGrosso. Built in the middle of the Amazon rainforest, the reservoir is only 160 sq km in size and only displaced one family. Credit: Courtesy of CHTP

Aerial view of the TelesPires Hydropower Plant, which has been operating since 2015.With an installed capacity of 1,820 MW, it is the biggest plant on the TelesPires River, which runs across the west-central state of MatoGrosso. Built in the middle of the Amazon rainforest, the reservoir is only 160 sq km in size and only displaced one family. Credit: Courtesy of CHTP

By Mario Osava
PARANAITA, Brazil, Oct 21 2017 (IPS)

The burning down of the local forest, on Jun. 29, 1979, was the first step towards the creation of the city of Paranaita, in a municipality that is now trying to shed its reputation as a major deforester of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest and has named itself “the energy capital.”

Two large hydropower plants, one of which is still being built, have changed life in Paranaita. But its future is not yet clearly defined between the rainforest, cattle-breeding and soy and maize monoculture that have advanced from the south, deforesting the west-central state of MatoGrosso, which is the southeastern gateway to the Amazon jungle region.

Construction of the plants has brought investment, new housing and hotels and has given a new boost to the local economy in the city, which now has large supermarkets. “My hotel only had six apartments; now it has 12 complete apartments and a more attractive facade,”Francisco Karasiaki Júnior said brightly, during a tour of the area by IPS.

The Teles Pires dam, 85 km northwest of Paranaita, employed 5,719 workers at the height of construction, in July 2014.

The dam began to be built in August 2011 and was completed in late 2014, when work had already begun on the São Manoel – the former name of the Teles Pires river – dam, which is smaller and located farther away from the city, 125 km downstream.

São Manoel suffered delays when construction was temporarily halted by court order and when the company building it came close to bankruptcy as a result of corruption scandals, which led to massive lay-offs in late 2016.

“I lost money, many of the people who stayed here didn’t pay their bills,” complained Ster Seravali Petrofeza, 68, the owner of the Petros Hotel and of a large store that sells machinery and appliances for production, construction and households in a building on the main street of the city that she saw grow up from nothing.

“The era of the ‘garimpo’ brought me my best business,” she said, recalling the boom in informal gold mining that brought Paranaitaprosperity during the 1980s and the early 1990s.

The sales of dredges, motors and other equipment purchased by miners ensured the success of the business she ran with her late husband, who “used to spend all his time on the road, looking for products, assembling dredges and delivering them to the ‘garimpeiros’ (informal gold-miners) on the river, working round the clock,” she said.

Pedro Correa, director of the environment in the Paranaita city government, looks at a photo of the city surrounded by forests, on his computer screen. Originally from the southern state of São Paulo, he worked for a few months on the construction of the Teles Pires hydropower dam and decided to stay in this town because he likes the quality of life. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Pedro Correa, director of the environment in the Paranaita city government, looks at a photo of the city surrounded by forests, on his computer screen. Originally from the southern state of São Paulo, he worked for a few months on the construction of the Teles Pires hydropower dam and decided to stay in this town because he likes the quality of life. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

“The ‘garimpo’ led to the emergence of 11 hotels in the city, between 1982 and 1989,” and put an end to frustrated attempts to grow tomatoes, coffee, cacao and tropical fruit like the guaraná, said Karasiaki, another pioneer who has lived 37 of his 53 years in Paranaíta and inherited the hotel built by his father.

“Our employees would disappear; they would go and ‘garimpar’ (mine for gold),” he said.

But the mining industry declined in the 1990s. The crisis was overcome by the intensification of the extraction of timber and the mushrooming of sawmills in the city. “We started selling chainsaws like hotcakes, about 12 a day,” said Petrofeza.

That era ended in turn the following decade, as a result of increasingly strict environmental controls.

The construction of hydropower dams gave the city new life, reviving the local market, “but they didn’t leave us anything permanent,” lamented the businesswoman, who was widowed in 1991.

“Agriculture isour hope,” said Petrofeza, whose two adult children produce soy and maize.

Paranaita exemplifies the “boom and collapse” cycles that affect an economy based on the exploitation of natural resources in Brazil’s rainforest, said economist João Andrade, coordinator of Socioenvironmental Networks at the non-governmental Centre of Life Institute (ICV), which operates in the north of the state of MatoGrosso.

Mining, rubber, timber, livestock and monoculture – all environmentally unsustainable activities – have succeeded each other in different areas, some of which have now been affected by the construction of hydropower plants.

The hotel and construction materials store owned by Ster Seravali Petrofeza in the city of Paranaita, in the west-central Brazilian state of Mato Grosso. The business and its owner have experienced the economic cycles of boom and collapse in this city, which now aims to become the capital of hydroelectricity. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The hotel and construction materials store owned by Ster Seravali Petrofeza in the city of Paranaita, in the west-central Brazilian state of Mato Grosso. The business and its owner have experienced the economic cycles of boom and collapse in this city, which now aims to become the capital of hydroelectricity. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The plants do not change the model of occupation and domination of the Amazon, but could kick off a new cycle, by providing more accessible energy to the mining industry and facilitating the expansion of export agriculture with new roads, Andrade fears.

Paranaíta, a city of just under 11,000 people in 2010, according to the latest census, declared a state of emergency in November 2013, due to the collapse in public services, because the population had expanded by two-thirds in the first few years of construction of the TelesPires plant, according to the city government.

Rents, the prices of goods and services, crime rates, and demand for health and education suddenly shot up, said biologist Paulo Correa, director of Environmental Projects and Licensing in the city government and a former employee of the Teles Pires dam, who decided to stay in Paranaita.

Contagious diseases like malaria and sexually transmitted infections also increased when the construction work was at its peak in the affected municipalities, said Carina Sernaglia Gomes,analyst of municipal environmental management at ICV.

The number of rapes rose more than threefold in the city of Alta Floresta, an important regional hub of50,000 people, with an airport and institutions of higher learning. The total climbed from 11 cases in 2011 to 36 in 2015, according to police records, Gomes pointed out.

In Paranaita, homicides and other violent crimes rose from 20 to 70 cases in that period.

One of the new avenues in Paranaita, whose population rose 70 percent between 2010 and 2014, which threatened to bring about a collapse in public services, during the nearby construction of two hydroelectric dams on the Teles Pires river, at the gateway to Brazil’s Amazon jungle region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

One of the new avenues in Paranaita, whose population rose 70 percent between 2010 and 2014, which threatened to bring about a collapse in public services, during the nearby construction of two hydroelectric dams on the Teles Pires river, at the gateway to Brazil’s Amazon jungle region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

These negative visions contrast with the enormous social and environmental investments made by the companies, especially the TelesPires Hydroelectric Company (CHTP). But nearly always in this kind of project, the compensation and mitigating measures arrive too late, after the worst impacts of the works have already been felt.

Paving the 55-km road to Paranaitaconnected the once-isolated city with the rest of the world. “It wasn’t an obligation, but we understood what the local populace was longing for and we did it,” said CHTP environment director Marcos Azevedo Duarte.

A road trip between the two towns was cut from three hours to just over half an hour, making it possible for the young people of Paranaitato study at the universities in Alta Floresta.

The training of 2,800 local workerswas “a legacy of knowledge,” said Duarte. Local labour power represented 20 percent of the company’s total at the height of construction.

The company returned outside workers to their homes after the work was done, to ease the demographic pressure on Paranaíta, the most heavily affected town due to its proximity and small population, he said.

Besides the 44 projects aimed at compensating for the damage in the affected municipalities, CHTP has attempted to boost local development.

Along with the city government and ICV, it has fomented improvements in production and administration in the rural settlement of São Pedro, population 5,000, located 40 km fromParanaita, and still dependent on food shipped in from southern Brazil.

Ensuring land titles to family farmers is a priority, said Duarte.

Getting Paranaitaoff the Environment Ministry’s black list of municipalities guilty of the worst deforestation in the Amazon is a goal of the city government that has the support of CHTP. Reducing the deforested area and legalising rural properties in a national land registry are the requirements for achieving that.

With respect to indigenous people, who the company compensated with 20 specific programmes, mainly the donation of vehicles, boats, fuel and community centres, Duarte acknowledged a major failing: the flooding of a site sacred to the Munduruku people, the “seven falls”.

“There is no way to compensate for a sacred site,” and the company feels the obligation to address proposals like building a centre for memory and culture for local indigenous communities and handing over the funeral urns found in the excavation during the construction of the plant, he said.

Austrian Elections: The Crisis of Europe Continues

Roberto Savio is co-founder of Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and its President Emeritus. He is also publisher of OtherNews.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Oct 21 2017 (IPS)

The Austrian elections show clearly that media have given up on contextualising events. To do that, calls for a warning about Europe’s future, as a vehicle of European values is required. Europe has been weakened by all the recent elections, with the notable exception of France. Common to all, France included, were some clear trends, that we will hastily, and therefore maybe imperfectly, examine.

Roberto Savio

The decline of the traditional parties.

In every election, since the financial crisis of 2009, the parties we have known to run their country since the end of the Second World War, are on the wane ( or practically disappearing, like in the last French elections). In Austria, the far right Freedom Party of Austria (FPO) secured 26 per cent of the vote, just a few votes behind the Social Democrats who took 26.9 per cent of the votes. The social democrats have been in power practically since the end of the war. And the other traditional party, the conservative Austrian People’s Party (OVP), won the elections with 31.5 per cent. Together the two parties used to have more than 85% of the votes. In the Dutch elections held in March, Geert Wilder’s far-right Party for Freedom PVV, came second after the ruling People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy VVD, at the expense of all other parties. And in September in Germany, the far right anti immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) enjoyed historical success, becoming the third party while the two traditional parties, Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union of Germany CDU and the social democrat Social Democratic Party of Germany SPD, suffered the worst results in more than a half a century. According to polls, next year Italian elections will see a populist movement, with the 5 Stars taking over the government.

Austria is the best example to understand how European national politics have changed. It is important to note that no right wing party was really visible in Europe, (except Le Pen in France), before the financial crisis of 2009. That crisis brought insecurity and fear and in the same year the Austrian far right, under the charismatic leadership of Jorg Haider, got the same percentage of votes as of today. And the conservative Prime minister of the time, Wolfgang Schlussel broke a taboo by bringing the Freedom Party into the government. Everybody in Europe reacted with horror, practically isolating Austria. And the FPO, lost all its lustre in the government, going down to 5%, and with the death of Haider even further down. There Are no gasps of horror now in Europe over any far right wing parties getting in to govern.

What has fuelled the decline of the traditional parties

The traditional parties were facing already a loss of participation and trust by the electors at the end of the last century but in 2009 Europe imported the financial crisis which racked the US in 2006. And, 2009 saw hardship and unemployment all over Europe. And that year Greece became the battleground of two visions in Europe. The Southern countries wanted to push out of the crisis with investments and social relief, while the bloc of Northern countries, led by Germany, saw austerity as the only response. Germany wanted to export it’s experience: they were doing well thanks to an internal austerity reform started by Schroeder in 2003, and they did not want to take on other reforms at any cost.

Greece was just 4% of the European economy and could have been rescued without problems. But the German line won and today Greece has lost 25% of its properties; pensions went down by 17%, and there is a massive unemployment. Austerity was the response to the crisis for all of Europe and that aggravated fear and insecurity.

It is also important to remember that until the invasions of Libya, Iraq and Syria, in which Europe played a key role (2011- 2014), there were few immigrants and this was not a problem. In 2010, immigrants numbered 215.000, in a region of 400 millions. But during the invasions, a very fragile balance between Shite and Sunni, the two main religious branches of Islam, collapsed. Civil war, and the creation of ISIS in 2015 pushed many to try to reach Europe to escape the civil wars. So, in 2015 more than 1.2 million refugees, the majority coming from countries in conflict, arrived in Europe, which was not prepared for such a massive influx. And, if we study the elections before then, we can see that the far right parties were not as relevant as they are now.

Therefore it should be clear that austerity and immigration have been the two main factors for the rise of the right wing. Statistics and data show that clearly. Statistics also show that immigrants, of course with exceptions, (that media and populism inflates), basically want to integrate, accept any kind of work, and are law abiding and pay their contributions, which is obviously in their interest. Of course the level of instruction plays a crucial role. But the Syrians who come here were basically middle class. And of course it is an inconvenient truth that if Europe did not intervene in the name of democracy, the situation would be different. NATO estimates that more than 30 billion dollars have been spent on the war in Syria. There are now six million refugees, and 400.00 dead.

And Assad is still there. Of course, democracy has a different value in countries which are closed and rich in petrol. If we were serious about democracy, there are so many African countries which need intervention. Book Haram has killed seven times more people than ISIS; and Mugabe is considering running for re-election after dominating Zimbabwe for nearly four decades. But you will never hear much on those issues in the present political debate.

How the far right is changing Europe

Nigel Farage is the populist who led a far right party, the UK Independence Party (UKIP) which fought for leaving Europe. UKIP received the greatest number of votes (27.49%) of any British party in the 2014 European Parliament election and gained 11 extra Member of the European Parliament MEPs for a total of 24.[55] The party won seats in every region of Great Britain, including its first in Scotland.[56] It was the first time in over a century that a party other than Labour or Conservatives won the mosti votes in a UK-wide election.

But Farage lost the elections held just before Brexit, in June 2016. His declaration to the media was: Infact, I am the real winner, because my agenda against Europe now is the basis for politics in all the traditional parties. Brexit did follow.

And this is what is happening now everywhere. The Austrian elections did not see only the FPO rise. They also saw the conservative OVP taking immigration, security, borders and others part of the far right agenda of the populist agenda in the electoral campaign. A full 58% of the voters went for the far right or the right, with the social Democrats also moving more to the center. The new Dutch governement took a turn to the right, by reducing taxes on the rich people, and to companies. The same turn to the right can be expected by the new coalition led by Merkel, with the liberals aiming to take over the ministry of Finance. Its leader, Christian Lindner, is a nationlist and has several times declared his aversion to Europe. In that seense, he will be worse than the inflexible Schauble, who just wanted to Germanize Europe, but was a convinced European. And it is interesting that the main vote for the far righ party AfD came from East Germany, where immigrants are few. But in spite of investing the staggering amount of 1.3 trillions Euro in the development of East Germany, important differences in employment and revenues with West Germany remain. No wonder that the President of South Korea has warned President Trump to avoid any conflict. They have decided a longtime ago, looking at the German reunification that they would not have the resources required by annexing with success, North Korea.The rocketman, as Trump calls Kim, after the decertification of Iran, can claim that the only way to be sure that US will not intervene, is to show that he has a nuclear intercontinental ability, because US does not respect treaties.

Those considerations done, a pattern is clear everywhere. The agenda of the right wing has been incorporated in the traditional parties; they bring in the governing coalition, like Norway did , or they try to isolate them , as did Sweden. This does not change the fact that everybody is moving to the right. Austria will now tilt to the Visegrad group, formed by Poland , Hungary, Czech and Slovakia, which are clearly challenging Europe and looking to Putin as a political model ( all the right wing does).

The only active European voice is Macron, who clearly is not a progressist guy either. The real progressist, Corbyn, is ambigous about Europe, because the Labour Party has a lot of eurosceptic.

The new German government has already made clear that many of it’s proposals for a stronger Europe are not on the agenda, and austerity remains the way. Unless a strong growth comes soon (and the IMF doubts that), social problems will increase. Nationalism never helped peace, development and cooperation. Probably , we need some populist movement to be in the government to show that they have no real answers to the problems. The victory of 5 stars in Italy will probably do that. But this was the theory also for Egypt. Let the Muslim Brotherhood take the government , and it will be a failure. Pity that the General El Sisi did not let this happen. Our hope is that we do not get any El Sisis in Europe.

If only young people went back to vote, this would change the situation in Europe…this is the real historical loss of the left in Europe.