The Carajás railroad, regarded as the most efficient in Brazil, runs a loss-making passenger service for the benefit of the population. But this does little to make amends for its original sin: it was created to export minerals and crosses an area of chronic poverty.
“My nephew was eight years old when he stepped in the ‘munha’ [charcoal dust] and burned his legs up to the knees,” said Angelita Alves de Oliveira from a corner of Brazil’s Amazonia that has become a deadly hazard for local people.
Valdenor de Melo has been waiting for 27 years for the land and cash compensation he is due because his old farm was left underwater when the Itaparica hydroelectric dam was built on the São Francisco river in Brazil’s semiarid Northeast.
Rodolfo Razão, an elderly small farmer in Mozambique, obtained an official land usage certificate for his 10 hectares in 2010, but he has only been able to use seven. The rest was occupied by a South African company that grows soy, maize and beans on some 10,000 hectares in the northeast of the country.
As they build huge hydropower dams, the Brazilian government and companies have run into resistance from environmentalists, indigenous groups and social movements. But the binational Itaipú plant is an exception, where cooperation is the name of the game.
Thousands of small farming families in Pará, in the Amazon jungle in northeast Brazil, have turned to the African oil palm as a new source of income, through contracts with biofuel companies. Strange bedfellows, which poses cultural and economic challenges.
The rural community of Las Pavas in northern Colombia received this year’s National Peace Prize Wednesday in recognition of its peaceful struggle for land that is claimed by an oil palm company, in a case that became an international symbol of the conflict over land in this country.
The green of the oil palm plantations is unbroken along kilometre after kilometre of red soil, devastated in the past by loggers and ranchers. The oil palm, a sign of alarm for some and of hope for others, is here to stay in the Amazon rainforest state of Pará in the extreme north of this country.
The small South American country of Uruguay could become a major logistics hub in the Southern Cone due to the deepwater port that the government is planning to build in a tourist area on the Atlantic ocean.
South America has gone from the world’s granary to the site of innumerable international infrastructure, energy and mining megaprojects. It is now facing a new dilemma: bolstering the economy with the promise of reducing inequality, in exchange for social and environmental costs that are taking their toll.
A new system of tunnels at the Alto de La Línea mountain pass in Colombia’s central Cordillera mountain range will open up a key logistics route for this country and neighbouring Venezuela. But it could be overcome by disaster if the Machín volcano erupts.
The Brazilian government projects the cancellation of nearly 900 million dollars in debt owed by a dozen African countries as a gesture of solidarity. But others simply see an aim to expand the economic and political influence of South America’s powerhouse.
Everything indicates that the decisive battle between harnessing hydropower and preserving the Amazon will play out in the Tapajós river basin in Brazil. At stake there are a potential of nearly 30,000 MW and a vital part of the Amazon rainforest.
The massive Itaipú hydroelectric dam, shared by Brazil and Paraguay, has now become a model for the micro-scale production of an energy source that is not only clean, but also helps to reduce pollution and promote local development: biogas.
In the war over major hydropower dams in the Amazon jungle, everyone loses - even the winners who manage to overcome the opposition and build them, but who suffer delays, costs that are difficult to recoup, and damage to their image.