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Extension of Tucuruí transmission line to Roraima, Brazil


Description:

In the beginning of 2019, Brazil’s new government announced the construction start of an electrical transmission line from Manaus to Boa Vista, as an extension of the existing Tucuruí transmission line. It would connect the isolated state of Roraima to the Brazilian energy grid, following the same corridor as the BR-174, including about 125 kilometers running through the territory of the Waimiri Atroari. The line had been proposed since the controversial constructions of BR-174 highway in the 1970s but it was especially pushed forward in the last decade. It has however faced opposition from the Waimiri Atroari group as well as regional politicians and non-government organizations. Looking back on a long history of violent conflict and ‘development’ interventions (see also related cases of the BR-174 construction, the Pitinga mine and the Balbina hydroelectric dam in the EJAtlas), leading to the group’s almost-extinction in the 1980s and an ongoing struggle for basic rights, the Waimiri Atroari (self-denomination: Kinja) today consists of 31 villages with a total number of 1,600 – 2,000 people.

In 2011, the Transnorte Energia S.A. consortium obtained the concession for the transmission line, but constructions was delayed due to lacking environmental permits. In 2015, Transnorte started to question the project’s feasibility and requested its cancellation at the National Electrical Energy Agency (Aneel), blaming the involved administrative bodies and demanding compensations for the already taken investments and lost profits. 

At the same time, regional politicians and authorities attempted to start a dialogue with the Waimiri Atroari community and promised them participation in the project and compensations. Political pressure increased on Brazil’s agency for indigenous affairs (FUNAI) to not further halt the construction start along the proposed route. In 2015 FUNAI’s president eventually endorsed the transmission line plans and announced positive impacts for the indigenous community. In a letter to Brazil’s environmental agency IBAMA signed by 23 Kinja leaders, the community dismissed FUNAI’s attempts to speak on behalf of them and declared their opposition to the transmission line. Fearing a renewed aggravation of their situation, and pointing to the 2014 environmental assessment that identified 37 negative impacts along the section, they claimed their right to be consulted over any interference, as guaranteed the ILO Convention 169 on the rights of tribal people and Brazil’s Constitution, and stated that precedences created through historical injustices do not legitimate the ignoring of their opinion today. 

Despite that, IBAMA, under the government of Dilma Rousseff, issued a preliminary environmental license to Transnorte Energia. [1][2] [3] [4] This license was however suspended by the Federal Justice Court in the beginning of 2016, which stopped constructions and demanded project operators to first seek consent from the affected indigenous communities. However, under the Temer government the Waimiri Atroari again started to face increased pressure from political and economic lobbies to accept the transmission line. Most notably, Eletronorte and FUNAI considered to make funding for the Waimiri Atroari Program conditional to the community’s agreement to the transmission line – plans that were however halted in 2018 by a urgent civic action of the MPF of Amazonas which pointed to the legal obligations of Eletronorte to continue paying.  [1] [5][6] 

In 2018, the Waimiri Atroari community – which since the 1970s has been closing off the BR-174 highway every night as a means of protection – approved the conducting of new environmental studies in their territory with intermediation by FUNAI. [7]

In the beginning of 2019, Brazil’s new government issued a decree that would allow an immediate start of the construction, justifying it as a matter of national interest. The Bolsonaro cabinet pointed to Venezuela’s aggravating political instability and Roraima’s so-far dependency on energy imports (currently about 70 percent) and frequent power blackouts. A government representative affirmed that the Indians will be consulted but their permission was no longer a condition for such concessions as national security must prevail - and thus override indigenous and environmental interests. While the government argues that environmental impacts will be minimal as the powerline will closely follow the existing highway, it can be expected that both the construction process and maintenance will require additional deforested corridors and access roads as well as the construction of 250 towers. [8][1][5][7][9][10] 

Critique also concerns the fact that the government’s accelerating of the transmission line omits the possibility for an alternative renewable energy plan, which had been envisaged by the regional government together with representatives of the renewable energy sector. A study by Roraima’s federal energy ministry points to the large potential for wind, solar as well as hydroelectric power and also considered these options less expensive than the transmission line. Brazil’s first female indigenous congresswoman Joênia Wapichana, from Roraima, acclaimed such a renewable energy plan as an alternative to the transmission line. She also noted that environmental impact studies on the transmission line have still not been finished and demanded the formal consultation of the affected population. [9] [10]

In March 2019, the federal prosecutor’s office MPF announced the adoption of legal measures against the issued government decree that authorized the transmission line. It not only expressed its overall concerns about the project, but also criticized the decision-making as arbitrary, because alternatives as well as the indigenous participation and the need for consultation have not been thoroughly considered. The Coordination of the Indigenous Organizations of the Brazilian Amazon (Coiab) publicly rejected the decree too, and declared their support for the Waimiri Atroari community. [1][10][11] 

In April 2019, indigenous mobilizations against the ongoing undermining of indigenous rights in the areas of education, health, demarcation and the environment took place all over Brazil. In Roraima a coalition of indigenous groups coordinated by the Conselho Regional Indígena de Roraima (CIR) blocked the BR-174 and among others expressed solidarity with the Waimiri Atroari community and their struggle against the transmission line, demanding the right of free, prior, informed consultation. [12] Former FUNAI head Sidney Possuelo recently stated to the media: “The situation of Brazil’s indigenous peoples has never been good. But during 42 years of working in the Amazon, this is the most dangerous moment I have ever seen.” [9]

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Extension of Tucuruí transmission line to Roraima, Brazil
Country:Brazil
State or province:Amazonas - Roraima
(municipality or city/town)Waimiri Atroari Indigenous Territory - Rorainópolis
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict: 1st level:Infrastructure and Built Environment
Type of conflict: 2nd level :Land acquisition conflicts
Deforestation
Specific commodities:Electricity
Land

Project Details and Actors

Project details:

Transnorte Energia S.A., a consortium between the companies Alupar (51%) and Eletronorte (49%), holds the concession for the transmission line since 2011 and was controversially granted a preliminary environmental license for the construction in 2015 . The section of the line would have a capacity of 500 KW and a total length of 721km. It would connect Roraima to Brazil’s central energy grid and thereby extend the existing Tucuruí transmission line. Extending over 1,800 kilometers, it leads from Pará to Manaus, Amazonas, and supplies homes and industries in the Northern Amazon region – particularly Vale’s aluminum industries in Pará and the Polo Industrial in Manaus – with hydroelectricity from Tucuruí, Brazil’s first mega dam.

According to a previous environmental impact assessment issued in 2014, the route along the BR-174 was considered the least environmentally harmful one among several evaluated options, but completely failed to take the indigenous component into account. 125 kilometers would run through the Terra Indígena Waimiri Atroari, which encompasses a total area of 2,585,910 hectares shared between the states of Amazonas and Roraima and also used to be home to a minority of isolated Piriutiti tribes. [1] [2] [3][6][10]

Estimated investment sum: R$ 1,062 billion [3]

Currently, Roraima receives 70 percent of its power from the Guri hydroelectric dam in Venezuela and faces regular power cuts. [9]

Level of Investment:268,372,710
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:1,600 - 2,000
Start of the conflict:2011
Company names or state enterprises:Transnorte Energia (TNE) from Brazil - holds the concession for the transmission line
Relevant government actors:FUNAI

MPF

IBAMA

Federal and regional governments

National Defense Council

National Electrical Energy Agency (Aneel)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Associação Waimiri-Atroari https://www.waimiriatroari.org.br/

Supporters:

Coordination of the Indigenous Organizations of the Brazilian Amazon https://web.archive.org/web/20100206194252/http://www.coiab.com.br/

Conselho Regional Indígena de Roraima (CIR)

Comissão de Meio Ambiente

Comissão de Minas e Energia e os Direitos Humanos

Conflict and Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Social movements
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Forms of mobilization:Blockades
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Official complaint letters and petitions
Official complaint letters and petitions
Street protest/marches
Refusal of compensation

Impacts of the project

Environmental ImpactsPotential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover
Health ImpactsPotential: Accidents, Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Infectious diseases, Other Health impacts, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide
Other Health impactsHigher risk of cancer
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, displacement, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place

Outcome

Project StatusPlanned (decision to go ahead eg EIA undertaken, etc)
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Court decision (undecided)
New legislation
Under negotiation
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Project temporarily suspended
Development of alternatives:As an alternative to the transmission line, the state of Roraima had been examining wind and solar power projects. While these would avoid the controversial crossing of indigenous livelihoods and presumable ecological conflicts, viability studies have also shown that these alternative plans would result cheaper. [9] [10]
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:The Waimiri Atroari community is again confronted with interventions into its livelihood and the violation of basic rights. Studies have shown the probable socio-environmental damages of the project, while alternative energy models have so far been omitted. With the transmission line, the state of Roraima would receive its energy supply from one of the world’s largest and most controversial hydroelectric projects, the Tucuruí dam in Pará.

Sources and Materials

Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

ILO Convention 169 on the rights of tribal people
https://www.ilo.org/dyn/normlex/en/f?p=NORMLEXPUB:12100:0::NO::P12100_INSTRUMENT_ID:312314

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

2. Duailibi, J. (2019): Licenças para linhão de Tucuruí devem sair até maio. G1 Globo, 22.02.2019. Online, last access: 18.04.2019.
https://g1.globo.com/politica/blog/julia-duailibi/post/2019/02/22/licencas-para-linhao-de-tucurui-devem-sair-ate-maio.ghtml

7. Toledo, M. (2018): Índios liberam estudo para linha de transmissão que corta terra vaimiri-atroari. Folha de S. Paulo, 16.03.2018. Online, last access: 18.04.2019.
https://www1.folha.uol.com.br/mercado/2018/03/indios-liberam-estudo-para-linha-de-transmissao-que-corta-terra-vaimiri-atroari.shtml

9. Rocha, J. (2019): Brazil to build long-resisted Amazon transmission line on indigenous land. Mongabay, 13.03.2019. Online, last access: 18.04.2019.
https://news.mongabay.com/2019/03/brazil-to-build-long-resisted-amazon-transmission-line-on-indigenous-land/

1. Trajano, A. (2016): Waimiri Atroari não autorizam linhão de Tucuruí em suas terras. Amazônia Real, 07.01.2016. Online, last access: 18.04.2019.
http://amazoniareal.com.br/waimiri-atroari-nao-autorizam-linhao-de-tucurui-em-suas-terras/

5. Farias, E. (2019): MPF vai questionar na Justiça decisão que torna Linhão do Tucuruí questão de “Interesse Nacional”. Portal Amazônia Real, 01.03.2019. Online, last access: 18.04.2019.
http://amazoniareal.com.br/mpf-vai-questionar-na-justica-decisao-que-torna-linhao-do-tucurui-questao-de-seguranca-nacional/

8. Branford, S. (2017): A stubborn dreamer who fought to save Amazon’s Waimiri-Atroari passes. Mongabay, 18.05.2017. Online, last access: 18.04.2019.
https://news.mongabay.com/2017/05/a-stubborn-dreamer-who-fought-to-save-amazons-waimiri-atroari-passes/

10. Santos, I. (2019): Para Joênia Wapichana, “alternativas limpas e renováveis” podem substituir o linhão de Tucuruí. Portal Amazônia Real, 26.03.2019. Online, last access: 18.04.2019.
https://amazoniareal.com.br/para-joenia-wapichana-alternativas-limpas-e-renovaveis-podem-substituir-o-linhao-de-tucurui/

12. Carvalho, P. (2019): Indígenas bloqueiam trecho da BR-174. Folha de Boa Vista, 01.04.2019. Online, last access: 18.04.2019.
https://folhabv.com.br/noticia/Indigenas-bloqueiam-trecho-da-BR-174/51685

4. Marques, M. (2015): Senador de RR diz que 'interesses obscuros' atrasam obras de Tucuruí. G1 Globo, 20.03.2015. Online, last access: 18.04.2019.
http://g1.globo.com/rr/roraima/noticia/2015/03/senador-de-rr-diz-que-interesses-obscuros-atrasam-obras-de-tucurui.html

11. COIAB (2019): Apoio ao povo Kinja (Waimiri-Atroari). 01.03.2019. Online, last access: 18.04.2019.
https://coiab.org.br/conteudo/1551447614997x481132045942050750

3. Solidaridade Ibero-amaericana (2015): Linhão de Tucuruí: “Estado está impedindo o Estado de cumprir com suas obrigações legais”. 23.09.2015. Online, last access: 18.04.2019.
https://msiainforma.org/linhao-de-tucurui-estado-esta-impedindo-o-estado-de-cumprir-com-suas-obrigacoes-legais/

6. Portal Amazônia Real (2016): Justiça suspende licença prévia do Linhão de Tucuruí até consulta à indígenas. 02.03.2016. Online, last access: 18.04.2019.
https://infoamazonia.org/pt/2016/03/license-to-power-transmission-line-is-suspended-until-indigenous-consultation/#!/story=post-14665

Other documents

The regional indigenous movement blocking the BR-174 in Roraima, April 2019 Source: Folha de Boa Vista
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/april_2019__divolgacao__folha_bv.jpg

Stopped construction works of the Tucuruí line extension (Source: Folha de Boa Vista)
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/stopped_constructions__Folha_d_Boa_Vista_.jpg

A tower of the existing Tucuruí transmission line section in Amazonas (Source: Revista Planeta Online)
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/amazonas_river__revista_planeta_.jpg

Existing transmission lines and the planned Roraima extension of the Tucuruí line (Source: Notícia Plus; Graphic by Eletronorte)
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/energia-venezuela-energia1.jpg

Kinja community members at the BR-174 road (Source: Solidaridade Ibero-Americana, msiainforma.org )
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/INDIOS-WAIMIRI-BR174-1.png

Meta information

Contributor:ENVJustice Project (MS)
Last update22/07/2019

Images

 

The regional indigenous movement blocking the BR-174 in Roraima, April 2019

Source: Folha de Boa Vista

Stopped construction works of the Tucuruí line extension

(Source: Folha de Boa Vista)

Kinja community members at the BR-174 road

(Source: Solidaridade Ibero-Americana, msiainforma.org )

A tower of the existing Tucuruí transmission line section in Amazonas

(Source: Revista Planeta Online)

Existing transmission lines and the planned Roraima extension of the Tucuruí line

(Source: Notícia Plus; Graphic by Eletronorte)