Brazil’s emergence as a regional powerhouse means that now it is looking to its neighbors to help fuel its growth. Last year, its government announced plans to build more than 60 dams in the Brazilian, Peruvian and Bolivian Amazon over the next two decades.
Tens of thousand of indigenous and remote communities across south-eastern Peru are set to have to abandon their homes as early as this year 2011. Among them, the Ashaninka tribe – a group already decimated during years of conflict in – are despairing of the state’s willingness to protect them and their territories from foreign energy prospectors.
A string of recent hydroelectric concessions granted to Brazilian-funded energy firms in Peru was met with strong opposition from local social environmental and human rights activists. But a decree passed early this year now means the Peruvian state can and will bypass any opposition to substantiating Brazil’s energy requirements.
Ashaninka: a people under threat
Their territories are already under a permanent concession for hydrocarbon exploration granted in 2005. But now, the Ashaninka communities living along the banks of the Ene river – a subsidiary of the Amazon River – now face a much more imminent danger.
10 communities and over 2000 indigenous families will be forced to evacuate their homes if work begins on a hydroelectric damming project currently proposed by Brazilian-funded energy firm Paquitzapango Energia SAC.
The dam is one of five planned in the wake of the Peru-Brazil energy agreement, signed under the Garcia administration, which lead to the Peruvian government committing itself to drive forward the construction of hydroelectric dams in Peruvian territory. Nearly all the energy from dams will be exported to Peru’s larger and more rapidly-developing neighbor, Brazil.
The 12 thousand indigenous peoples under threat in the Paquitzapango ancestral lands will be those affected by one of five other dams planned in the region, most have which which have passed through or will shortly be completing feasibility studies before applying for permanent concessions to begin the damming process.
The Ashaninka people still bear the scars of the violence and displacement they suffered during the 1990s conflict in Peru, in which they fought and lost many lives against the Sendero Luminoso. “You can still see the effects the conflict had on the population,” said Iris Olivera, the lawyer for the Central Asháninka del Río Ene (CARE) indigenous association.
“In its own report on truth and reconciliation, Peru recognized the role the Ashaninka played in the pacification of the region,” Olivera said, “but after these lamentable occurences, the state is continuing to make them vulnerable because of the concessions they are granting over their lands.”
Urgent Decrees and prior consultation – bypassing international standards
The Peruvian government is hoping the dams will boost foreign exchange earnings from energy exports, increase tax revenue, and help build local economies through the services and jobs required during dam construction.
In a rush to encourage private investment, the government has pushed through two laws that would expedite approvals of dams, pipelines and road projects, and exempt them from obtaining environmental certifications as a prerequisite for concession approval.
Before, Peruvian law meant prospecting companies had to pass studies of the environmental impact, explains Olivera.
Urgent Decrees 001 and 002 were announced in January this year. Seeking to facilitate investment for 33 projects the government deems to hold ‘national importance,’ the decrees delay the need to present the studies on environmental impacts until after the permanent concession has been granted.
“They are really a weakening in environmental standards,” says Olivera. “The study on environmental impact has become an administrative report – merely a formality.”
Tens of thousands will be displaced
Of five dams which are currently in the planning phase, precise information to the number of people who will be affected is unavailable. The lack of state presence, some rejection of surveying rights on the part of indiegnous communities, and a recent reemergence of social violence and drug trafficking has meant that in many cases concrete information is lacking.
Much of the preliminary research comes from prospecting companies, who only look at populations which will be directly affected by the rising waters. This research overlooks other serious environmental impacts, such as downstream communities whose water flow is cut off, or the build up of poisonous mercury deposits.
Paquitzapango (2000 MW) – Up to 12,000 people, most of whom are members of the Ashaninka community, will be displaced.
Inambari (2000 MW) – According to data from Peru’s National Institute of Statistics (INEI) the number of people directly affected by flooding is 3,261. Information from a 2007 census estimates the number of people indirectly affected in 2010, according to a 2007 census at around 3,071.
Tambo 40 (1287 MW) – a preliminary study submitted to the Ministry of Energy and Mining by the company carrying out inspections estimated the number of people directly affected by damming activited at around 4,500
Tambo 60 (579 MW) – Ministry of Energy and Mines refuses to provide further information from preliminary studies.
Mainique 1 (607MW) – Ministry of Energy and Mines refuses to provide further information from preliminary studies.