Bishop Erwin Kräutler on Belo Monte
“Why make a hydroelectric pharaonic like this The Belo Monte Dam? “
Born in 1939 in Austria, Bishop Erwin Kräutler has a degree in philosophy and theology, winner of 22 awards, including the Nobel Prize, and Bishop emeritus of the Roman Catholic territorial Prelature of Xingu. He was President of Cimi (Indigenous Missionary Council) for 17 years and is known and admired for his fight against the construction of the Belo Monte and the defence of the rights of indigenous people, bordering, the poorest and most fragile and the Amazonian extractive.
The Lord received numerous awards throughout his life, including the Alternative Nobel Prize, for its work in defense of the traditional communities, rural workers etc. How do you feel about these awards?
As for awards, I received them on behalf of so many people with whom I worked or who have worked with me, because I’ve never been alone, I never feel alone. Also I never took initiatives alone. I always saw myself accompanied by others who maybe are not in high relief. As a Bishop you is automatically a little more in the media. Then I received these awards in this sense, thanking on behalf of so many people, women and men, the Ccme and other entities with which I worked.
On the other hand, the Lord received several threats and suffered an attempt on his life. But never intimidated. Fear interfered too much in your journey?
As for the threats, never did. When you take a position in favor of a cause, for example, arises in favor of indigenous peoples, automatically is contrary to interests of other segments, such as loggers, landowners, miners, who seek to enter the indigenous areas and are not too happy when someone opposes and defends what is written in the Federal Constitution. So it’s not that we cause, is that when you put yourself in favor of a particular cause you are against the interests and sometimes the greed of those who at all costs want to explore the natural riches of the soil and subsoil of indigenous territories.
The fear, of course. All we defend our lives, and when it is threatened and at risk, it’s not a nice thing to deal with, but I’ve always been convinced that this is my path, I have to keep him despite all the threats and intimidation.
How his faith helped him address these challenges?
I have faith in God and faith in the people who are fighting for a noble cause, and so never quit, I never stopped to intimidate me. I spent a few moments of crisis, just when I got the protection of the part of the military police by Government decision, I felt a bit cornered. I remember very well that I was afraid of getting into a depression or something, because all of a sudden you can’t walk alone, is always accompanied by two people, everything you do, where you are, or where you go, there are always two soldiers together. I asked that they were not in uniform, but still don’t have more freedom to be alone. Outer freedom is curtailed, but nobody can take me inside. I kept talking, saying what I think and defending the causes that I find necessary to defend.
The MPF joined with another action against the Belo Monte dam, for risk of collapse. What is the situation today in the municipality of Altamira, Pará.
To tell the truth, the situation is chaotic. There were 40 conditions listed by the Brazilian Institute of environment and renewable natural resources (Ibama), and 23 who were listed by the restrictions National Indian Foundation (Funai), 63 in all. These conditions should be met before the installation of the construction site, and have not been complied with.
When you start a building of this size as Belo Monte, the consequences for the environment and for a city or several cities or counties are terrible. The constraints would be basic sanitation, education, health, housing, transportation, public safety, the demarcation of indigenous areas not yet demarcated, a lot of things, and everything that has not been fulfilled, so today we are in a situation where, if you go in Altamira, you get struck on the facts that happened.
How was the transfer of the families to their new homes?
First, a large part of the population was compulsorily transferred. I’m not saying that these families were invited to move to another location, because they were moved because there was no other way. If you made a series of houses, I don’t know how many, House in fitting a family maybe with four people, and the people who used maybe with a wider, wider, in this situation. The first impact was.
The second is that were taken from their midst, from your socializing with other people. We’re not living alone in a House, you’re living in the neighborhood, too. We do not live alone, our House is not isolated. We have neighbors, have relatives, cronies, and suddenly you’re being ripped off of that and put in the middle of people you don’t know. This is another impact is terrible in my view.
What is the current condition of the population of Altamira.
Crime has increased in a scary way. We have, for each weekend, two, three, sometimes even more murders, and gets to the point we almost get used to it. Some people, Monday, question how many died in this weekend, “only one”, have you considered? That’s the way. “I’m glad, just one, because they had other weekends in which there were three, four”. How long is this way. It’s not that the public security work, but that has no conditions.
Another thing, especially in relation to youth: drugs, I’ve never seen anything like it. A few days ago, there was a lady with me, teacher who was principal of a school. She doesn’t know what else to do. At school, children or teenagers, twelve, thirteen, the drugs run loose inside.
And all the consequences of child prostitution, of minors, is terrible, all these dens of prostitution, of doom, terrible, terrible even. I’m not exaggerating anything, because I know Altamira. I’m there for over 50 years, met this city that I was, of course, smaller companies, 7 or 8000 inhabitants. Now has 150,000, but is second to none.
Cohabitation has become something that is not more than neighborhood, good neighborhood, everybody locks. At certain times were dedicated to leisure, if you stop to observe, there’s no one in front of the House. Formerly Altamira was like this: the people, the mouth of the night, as they say, was sitting in front of the House, the kids playing on the sidewalk, that sort of thing, people making conversation. None of this happens more, the houses are surrounded by high walls, with electric fence. This is no longer life. For women in your age, or a little more, walk alone is a risk.
What was the impact of the construction of the Belo Monte dam in the local culture?
The culture of the people was the way paraense, shot in the heart. Because, just to explain, the para has a culture of hospitality. And certainly other people throughout Brazil are similar, but here in the South are different. Let’s see for example, a family that lives in Altamira. Parents, relatives, uncle, aunt, grandparents, whoever they are, friends who live in the countryside, when they arrive in Altamira to treat, shopping, automatically stay in the House of kids, you can’t make a phone call or something, “look I’ll get” and such, this is normal thing, normally, children receive their parents, relatives, friends, grandparents, whoever you are.
And suddenly you’re in a House that is so small, so small that barely fits a couple with two children, and suddenly comes the father, or mother, or comes comes the grandparents, and you’re going to have to say on port “here has no place”. And this is horrible, the aggression is not only that you have been transferred from one home to another, is an assault on culture. Imagine inside the heart of a person having to deny accommodation to parents. There’s no other way, doesn’t fit, simply does not fit, the houses are more than cages.
Do you consider that the Belo Monte dam brought development to Altamira?
For me, this is not progress, it is not development, people talked about that with Belo Monte would progress to Altamira, but that progress is this? The quality of life worsened, decreased quality of life in a scary way. It’s a throwback.
In deals involving the car wash operation, directors of major contractors recognized be diversions of resources involving the construction of the Belo Monte dam. Confirmed, therefore, that were other reasons to build the plant?
Without doubts. I can’t prove it because I don’t have access to all these documents, but we all get concerned, since the beginning. There’s sand in the Middle, has ox in line, as was said in the old days. And in fact now gradually is finding that had vested interests behind. In addition, I support until today that Belo Monte is a blow at the heart of the Amazon. A river is being sacrificed, and we still don’t know if it will work. Because the Xingu is a river, as they say geologists in training. The river is not ready in fact. There are other rivers that have their particular bed, don’t change anything else, but the Xingu is different, so we don’t know the true consequences. I don’t know if scientists who live here in Brasilia understand really what is the Amazon and what is the Xingu River with its tributaries and everything else. At this point I don’t want to be apocalyptic Prophet, but I am afraid, because this can lead to unforeseen consequences that nobody knows today determine or define.
Why Brazil insists on adopting energy sources that cause so much damage to the environment and traditional populations? Isn’t it time to adopt another model of development?
Exactly, there are other possibilities to capture energy. I’m talking about the solar energy, for example, in our area of Pará we have Sun of 6:00 at 6:00 pm, even in winter, the so-called winter is the rainy season, the Sun at dawn the day at 6:00 or 6:30 and to the 6:00 pm 6:30 pm or we have clarity, then why not take advantage of this gift which is the sun itself? And we have leading-edge scientists in our universities here, why don’t you invest in these scientists to figure out how to take advantage of this never ending source that is the sun itself?
As wind energy I have some reservations, but also on the northeast coast there are areas that are not inhabited, I mean, a wind farm there does not spoil both the landscape or affect the tourism. And then there is biomass, has other sources. Why do a pharaonic hydroelectric plant as Belo Monte that?
Could make some smaller, taking advantage of a tributary of the Xingu River. There wouldn’t be so much damage, leaves the riverbed as is, but even near Altamira has several tributaries that are streams are streams, would say almost rich, has lots of water, you can take advantage of. I’m not a scientist at that point, but I was always thinking about it, why ruin a 2000 km long river, this river, to the environment, ruin a city, one-third of the city goes to the bottom, and it’s the same story. I don’t understand.
We know that the Lord helped in the production of the Encyclical Laudato Si. What do you think of the assignment of co-author that received?
I helped in the production seems a little excessive, journalists put I was co-author. The fact is that I was there with the Pope in April 2014 04, and I am Secretary of the Episcopal Commission for the Amazon, we even had a meeting which ended just now.
For 50 years in the Amazon, then suddenly emerged this proposal to go talk to the Pope about her. The cardinal Dom Cláudio Hummes then scheduled a hearing for me, and I went there on April 04. For a while I spoke with the Pope about the situation of the Amazon, on indigenous peoples, and other matters. As for Amazon, spoke of their importance as a habitat of indigenous peoples.
The Pope then revealed to me that I was writing an encyclical, a letter not only to Catholics but to all men and women of goodwill, on the ecology, and he soon warned saying that is a “human ecology” that he wants to refer.
So I said just like that “then the Amazon can not miss, the Amazon has to enter in this Encyclical because she plays an important role in planet Earth, even has a regulatory function of the own planetary climate, and indigenous peoples also logically have to be remembered because they are linked to the environment and ecology”.
And the Pope then told me that he had entrusted the President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Cardinal Peter Turkson, make a sketch of how I could do this job, this encyclical, and asked me to drive him. I told him “look that I did last night because we had dinner together and talked about it.” He asked me to give my contribution. Me to send quickly, urgently, urgently of the greatest urgency to my contribution, which I did on June 19, 2014 and the Encyclical came out a year later, 18 June 2015.
How was your first contact with the text?
To my greatest surprise and happiness, as the Encyclical came out I was at the farm of the Cimi in Luziânia. I was put the word Amazon on search and reference appeared. After I put indigenous and never showed up, I was a little scared, but the Pope used the Aboriginal Word, because in Africa and Australia does not use the word. So I came in and recognized at the time these articles 38 and 146, I realized that it would be pretty much my contribution, but I cant be co-author, I gave my contribution, and appeared so on those articles.
How important is, in his opinion, of the Encyclical?
I think that the Encyclical has a great value, because you do not need to have a, shall we say, advanced study in theology or in other sciences, any lay person and that layperson has interest in ecology can read and understand. The Pope left advising by scientists of great value, because there’s nothing in there that you can criticize “look, this is fantasy, romantic thing”. The Encyclical is untouchable, the message is given, once again, will not only to the Catholic World, but to all the people, because we are all responsible for this world which is ours and which is our home.
We have to learn from indigenous peoples? What message do they bring to the construction of a new society?
There’s a lot that we can learn, but basically I wanted to refer to two specific points. The first thing is, in fact, as the Indians relate to their land. For Indians, the Earth is not merchandise. For us whites, the land purchase, sell, I mean, we’re in a world where the Earth has an economic value, buying and selling, all of a sudden you buy, then you don’t like better, sell, buy huge tracts of land, owner, has outright land etc. For the Indians is another thing. For indigenous peoples the Earth is, so to say, mom. They have a son-mother relationship. The Earth is the ground of its rites, its myths, where their ancestors are buried, the land of their dances, the land is part of your own life. Once again, unfortunately for us, the Earth is buying and selling item, it is good.
And the second thing that I’ve always admired, I remember when I was a new Bishop, younger than now, I once went to a village, in the Xingu, and saw a banana plantation. I asked an Indian “who planted this banana?”. The Indian was responding at the time, in his native language, “we all did Kayapo”. They have this idea of “we”, “our”.
Well, we Brazilians, when no game when you’re playing against Brazil or Chile against France or Italy or whatever, we’re watching, we feel, will feel no Brazilians too when it comes to the defense of our homeland? The Indians teach us exactly that idea of “us”, “we” means that both of us are not just two people, you have other parents with mine, but the Indians perceive as relatives, I mean, you to me is a relative, a person who is on, and I’m connected to you by a bond of friendship, of fraternity that nobody can cut. That I find beautiful.