Glenn Switkes's picture
Latin America Program Director
I love cooking (Brazilian, Thai food); listening to all kinds of music - jazz, world, roots, and playing the bass; films - Hitchcock is my hero; baseball; hitting the muddy roads in my jeep and climbing to the cachoeiras .

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Streams of Consciousness

Not My Favorite Martian

My Favorite MartianJust a final volley before I leave on three months of sabbatical.

First, a couple of Quotable Quotes - we´ve often wondered what planet Jerson Kelman, head of Brazil´s electricity regulatory agency comes from, and perhaps he´s now given us a clue. On October 1, Kelman told a meeting of electric sector executives that "there is an ideological, nearly religious objection to hydroelectric dams in Brazil", and that "if a Martian landed in Brazil, he would not understand why Brazilians are ignoring their great hydroelectric potential". Only an alien would not know that nearly all (85%) of Brazil´s electricity comes from dams, and that in the future, if his electric sector colleagues have their way, nearly all the rivers of Amazonia will be dedicated to their genuine vocation - turning hydroelectric turbines.

Correa Sends Odebrecht Packing

Ecuadorian President  Rafael Correa

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa

Ecuador´s President Rafael Correa has now taken the bold step of kicking Brazilian dam-building giant Odebrecht out of the country. Odebrecht officials have reported taken sanctuary in the Brazilian embassy in Quito, and Correa now says Ecuador may elect to default on a loan of more than $200 million from Brazil´s National Development Bank, BNDES for construction of San Francisco Dam. The problem, as described in my blog last week, was the Brazilians´ shoddy worksmanship, and their refusal to compensate Ecuador for damages to the dam.

Best of Times, Worst of Times for Alstom

Alstom Company Headquarters (archive)

Alstom Company Headquarters (archive)

On the same day that Alstom announced its biggest contract ever for dam-building equipment - a US$700 million deal to furnish turbines and other materials for Santo Antonio Dam on the Madeira River in the Brazilian Amazon, Brazil´s federal prosecutors announced they will begin a new investigation into charges that the company handed out millions in bribes to politicians in São Paulo to win a lucrative Metro contract.

Ecuador Tells Odebrecht: "Fix it or Clear Out!"

San Francisco Dam, Ecuador (Clifford J. Schexnayder)

San Francisco Dam, Ecuador (Clifford J. Schexnayder)

Just a year ago, things were looking rosy for the Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht, which had just finished building a large dam in Ecuador, called San Francisco.

Now, with serious problems with its turbines and conduction tunnels shutting down the 350 MW project, Ecuador´s President Rafael Correa has given Odebrecht a final ultimatum to fix its dam or leave the country.

Fool Me Once, Shame on You...

Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Speak no Evil

A wise old Chinese philosopher once said "Fool me once, shame on you...fool me twice, shame on me". Brazil´s granting of a construction license for Santo Antônio Dam, on the Madeira River, made it clear that responsibility must be shared for the shameful way in which environmental laws have been blatantly ignored in order to hasten the destruction of the Amazon´s major tributary.

Army Mobilizes to Defend Balbina Dam

Brazilian Military in Amazon (archive)

Brazilian Military in Amazon (archive)

I know I should be working, but this one caught my eye: "Brazil defends Amazon dam in simulated war. Beginning yesterday, the `Green´ country (Brazil) will be invaded by the `Yellow´ country, which will occupy Balbina Dam and mineral-rich areas in the Amazon." The Brazilian Navy, Army, and Air Force will mobilize to halt the nefarious "Yellow" plans. According to the operation´s site, the principal objective is to protect the dam and electric system installations.

Mother Threatens to Take Away Their Toys

Dilma Rousseff, Lula´s Chief-of-Staff (Antônio Cruz/ABr)

Dilma Rousseff, Lula´s Chief-of-Staff (Antônio Cruz/ABr)

Like a stern mother scolding disobedient children, President Lula´s Chief-of-Staff Dilma Rousseff has threatened the Madeira dams consortia that if they go to court to contest the terms of project concessions, the Brazilian government will build the dams itself.

The maternal comparison is fitting because Rousseff, being groomed as the Workers Party candidate in the 2010 presidential election, has been declared by Lula to be "the Mother of PAC", the government´s Plan to Accelerate Growth, based upon building large-scale infrastructure projects.

With Rings on Their Fingers

ringsIn characteristic heavy-handed fashion, Brazil´s electricity bureaucracy last week went through the motions of assuring the public and environmental licensing authorities that Belo Monte will be stand-alone dam on the Xingu River. In attempting to explain the decision, Jerson Kelman, Director-General of the electrical energy regulatory body, ANEEL, said "Technically, there´s no reason not to build other dams (on the river)". Kelman termed the decision "political", designed to satisfy those who want the dam. "It´s a typical case of giving up your rings to keep your fingers", he said. (Ouch!)

When Governments Corrupt

 

Lula, Minc and others protest Angra III nuclear plant, 1989 (archive)

Lula, Minc and others protest Angra III nuclear plant, 1989 (archive)

What happens when activists, or idealists enter in the government? The papers are full of accounts of government corruption, but is the converse also true - that governments corrupt, turning activists into staunch defenders of vested interests? Case in point - yesterday´s approval of a provisisonal license for the Angra III nuclear plant by Environmental Minister Carlos Minc.

Battle of the Titans

Amid continued calls by dam builders to accelerate environmental licensing in Brazil, a battle looms between industry giants which could delay the damming of the Madeira River.