Iberdrola denies compensation to the Tupinamba people

(MAB) (IberTrola)

(Português) (Castellano)  (Euskera)
From Euskal Herria (Basque Country), where the energy company Iberdrola has its headquarters and head office, A Planeta echoes the complaints in Brazil, and more specifically now in Itapebi (State of Bahia) where on 27 December 2022 its mismanagement of the dam of the same name caused the flooding of the municipalities of that city and Belmonte, 100 kms downstream (see map) by suddenly opening its six gates. This is not the first time this has happened. The flooding has considerably affected the Tupinamba communities in both places. As can be seen in the photos, the affected families had to take their belongings out of the canoe and had their houses and crops flooded, losing food and livelihoods.

Agricultural production takes place on the current riverbanks because the soil is more fertile and water is available. But obviously these are the first and most affected by the floods. Their food supply is also affected by the lack of fishing caused by the loss of river flow. Neoenergia (Iberdrola) has committed to providing basic food baskets, but to date, almost four months later, these have not been distributed to the affected population. Despite this, it is obvious that this was not a solution, but if it happens, neither will it be, since the hydroelectric dam totally affects their way of life, their traditional forms of production and their subsistence.

On the other hand, the communities have lost their means of communication and transport, which until now depended on the river, by canoes, because the river has lost its course and the water level is very low. The riverbanks have also turned into mudflats where it is impossible to carry out any activity.

The Tupinamba family tries to save their belongings (Photo: Cacique Rony Tupinamba).

On April 11, negotiations began between the affected Tupinamba communities and the company Neoenergia, a Brazilian subsidiary of Iberdrola – over-represented, it should be noted. The organization MAB (Movement of Affected by Dams), as in many other crimes perpetrated by large energy or extractive companies (Brumadinho, Mariana, Congonhas, etc.) supports and assists the affected people of this indigenous people. We join them in denouncing the refusal of this energy company to take responsibility and compensate the affected people.

The Itapebi hydroelectric plant is located on the lower course of the Jequitinhonha river, on the border of the states of Bahia and Minas Gerais. It is wholly owned by Grupo Neoenergia, a Brazilian subsidiary of Iberdrola. Construction began in 1999 by Neoenergia and it became operational in February 2003. It has a total generating capacity of 1.88 million MWh/year of energy, with an installed capacity of 462 MW from three generating units of 154 MW each. It is, therefore, a large dam.

Image of the flooding provided by the affected communities (Photo: Cacique Rony Tupinamba).

As MAB activist Moisés Borges points out, the value of MW/h in Brazil is around 37 €, so we are talking about great benefits, as a productive system of this kind does not require any resource for its activity except for the flow of water.

Maize crop flooded by Itapebi (Photo: Cacique Rony Tupinamba).

In January of the same year (2022), also during a period of high rainfall in Brazil, several dams overflowed and even threatened to collapse (which is not new in Brazil). The Itapebi dam also affected more than 200 families. And then also MAB raised «the need for planning with the reconstruction of the whole of Brazil and rural technical assistance for families who have lost their production» and demanded «a more rigid inspection of dams that are clogged and cannot accumulate water during the rainy season». Coincidentally, but less than a year later this was again the problem faced by these families.

Since it was inaugurated in 1999, the local communities have complained about the lack of compensation. Nor did they include among those affected by the construction of the dam many people who lost their jobs: washerwomen, fishermen, bricklayers, extractors, miners. The company, Iberdrola, also failed to fulfil fundamental obligations without which such a project could not be implemented, such as the lack of information and participation of the affected communities.

According to FUNAI (Fundação Nacional dos Povos Indígenas) there is no document that addresses the effects of the hydroelectric project on the indigenous communities. Such documentation is essential for the implementation of a project of this magnitude and impact.

Furthermore, Ibedrola has not fulfilled one of the conditions to which it committed itself when building the reservoir, which was to provide sewage drainage in the municipality of Salto da Divisa, which currently remains untreated. This town has also been affected by holes in the asphalt, collapsing houses, cracked walls and uneven streets. For the construction of the dam, a neighbourhood and several houses were flooded, and several families were evicted from their homes, unjustly compensated, humiliated and neglected. Many houses are now at risk of collapse, but the occupants have not been relocated. The town’s water and power supply is also of poor quality, ironically, despite being on the banks of a reservoir that produces electricity. The population’s production has also been affected. The construction of this dam has only caused problems, so the MAB states that the entire population of Salto da Divisa is now affected by the Itapebi hydroelectric dam.

Map of the Jequitinhonha river and the Itapebi reservoir: at one end the municipality of Salto da Divisa, at the other Itapebi, and at the end at the mouth of the river, Belmonte, which was also affected.

Another problem caused by the plant is that since its construction it has caused sedimentation in the Jequitinhonha river, which now (together with poor management) is causing it to overflow when it releases a lot of water.

Protest by affected people in Salto da Divisa (Photo: MAB)

In addition to Itapebi, the population of Salto da Divisa is also affected by another hydroelectric dam, Irapé, further downstream. Irapé, built in 2006, belongs to CEMIG (Companhia Energética de Minas Gerais) and has a capacity of 360 MW.

Iberdrola’s profits for last year, 2022, were 4,338.6 million euros: an increase of 11.7 %. These profits correspond mainly to its earnings in Brazil, Mexico and the United States. In Brazil, in addition to generating electricity through hydroelectric plants (the most profitable), Iberdrola, through Neonergia, provides electricity to 34 million people. So we understand that it is shameful that it benefits in this way in another country, but also, when it commits abuses for this activity, it also refuses to re-establish the affected people and ecosystems. We must bear in mind that these indigenous communities are highly sustainable, and that the Jequitinhonha Valley is one of the areas with the lowest per capita income in Brazil, so it is inhumane to profit by treating its inhabitants in this way.

Image of the flooding caused by Neoenergia (Iberdrola) in December 2022. (Photo: Cacique Rony Tupinamba)

The Tupinamba people live in the extreme south of the state of Bahia, in northeastern Brazil, a region of intense conflict over indigenous lands. In 2004 they initiated a process to recover their land, as their 47,000 hectares of land remained unmapped. But their struggle goes back centuries, as they were the first to confront the Portuguese invasion in 1500. They have recovered land, expelled landowners and stopped deforestation, but they have also suffered great reprisals for it, with massacres such as the one in 2008.

Nor is this the only Iberdrola plant affecting indigenous peoples, as its huge Belo Monte hydroelectric plant (11,233.1 MW) affects the Juruna, Kayapó, Xipaya, Kuruaya, Asurini, Parakanã, Arara, Munduruku peoples. On the other hand, its project for another macro-hydroelectric plant, Tapajós, on the Amazon tributary of the same name, currently stalled, would affect the Munduruku people. Tapajós would have a similar capacity to Belo Monte: 10,682 MW. Iberdrola has already built another macro-hydroelectric plant on this river, Teles Pires (1,820 MW), which affected the Kayabi, Apiaka and Munduruku peoples.

In addition to these, Iberdrola owns the hydroelectric plants Baguari (140 MW), Corumbá (96.45 MW), Dardanelos (261 MW) and Baixo Iguaçu (350 MW) in Brazil. Despite their serious social, cultural, economic and environmental impacts, Iberdrola refers to all of them as «renewable».

Aerial view of the Itapebi hydroelectric plant.


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