The history of MAB
The history of the dam affected people in Brazil has been marked by the resistance for land, the struggle for the preservation of nature and the construction of a Popular Project for Brazil. This project contemplates a new Energy Policy which is fair, participative and democratic and that meets the expectations of the affected populations. This way the affected populations can participate in the decision making processes for dam construction, for their destiny and for the destiny of the environment.
During the 70s, the energy production model through hydroelectric dams was boosted considerably. Hydroelectric power plants were built throughout the country; gigantic projects were executed, aiming mainly to the generation of cheap electricity for electro-intensive industries and consequently the growth of the national economy. This resulted in the so called “Brazilian miracle”, during the military dictatorship.
These huge projects displaced thousands of people, farmers and rural workers from their houses and lands, and made them lose their jobs. Many landless people went to live in the periphery of big urban centres. This reality makes necessary the organisation and struggle of the dam affected people in Brazil against the imposed energy model.
Three focal points of resistance, organization and struggle can be considered the cradle of what would become MAB in the following years:
First, in the Northeast area; at the end of the 70s with the construction of the Hydroelectric Power Plant (HPP) of Sobradinho in Rio Sao Francisco, where more than 70.000 people were displaced, and later with the HPP of Itaparica which became the stage of intense struggle and popular mobilization.
Second, in the South; almost simultaneously in 1978, was the beginning of the construction of the HPP of Itapu in the hydrographical basin of Rio Parana and the announcement of the construction of the HPPs of Machadinho and Ita in the hydrographical basin of Rio Uruguay, which triggered a great mobilization and organization process in this area.
Third, in the North; roughly at the same period, people were organised to guarantee the respect of their rights during the construction of the HPP of Tucuruí.
All of the above mentioned projects point out two significant facts: the existence still today, of popular organization and the persistence of all the social and environmental problems arising from dam construction.
In these projects and similar ones in other areas of Brazil, the struggle of the dam affected populations was focused initially on the guarantees for fair compensations and resettlements, although it soon evolved into direct questioning of the need for dam construction. Therefore, the dam affected populations realised that apart from the isolated struggle regarding their own case, they should fight against the dominant national and international energy model. Thus a wider organization which could articulate the struggle throughout Brazil was necessary.
So, in April 1989 the 1st National Meeting of Workers Affected by Dams took place, with the participation of representatives from various areas of the country. It was an important moment of multidimensional assessment of the struggles and experiences of the affected populations throughout Brazil. It was decided to create a stronger organization at the national level to stand up to the construction of big dams.
Two years later, on March 1991, the 1st Congress of the Affected People of Brazil took place, where it was decided that MAB - Movement of the Dam Affected People, should be a national, popular and autonomous movement, organizing and articulating the actions against dams, starting from the local realities and based on the principles defined by the Congress. The 14th of March is instituted as the National Day of Struggle Against Dams and has been celebrated ever since.
The National Congresses of MAB started taking place every three years, always bringing together representatives of all the organized regions and the decisions taken serve as bases and guidelines for action.
With the support of several entities, we accomplished the 1st International Meeting of People Affected by Dams in March 1997, in Curitiba, Parana/Brasil. Twenty countries participated in the International Meeting with dam affected peoples’ delegations and supporting organizations. During the encounter, dam affected people from Asia, America, Africa and Europe shared their experiences of struggle and victory, denounced and discussed the Energy Policies, the fight against dams internationally, as well as strategies to defend the rights of the affected families and strengthen the Movement globally. The meeting produced the Declaration of Curitiba, which unifies the international struggles and institutes the 14th of March as the International Day of Fight Against Dams.
As a result of this articulation and pressure from the movements of dam affected people from around the globe, the World Bank linked World Commission on Dams (WCD) was created in 1997 in Switzerland, with the participation of NGOs representatives, movements of dam affected people, dam construction companies, financing entities and governments. The main WCD objectives were to propose solutions for the problems caused by the construction of dams worldwide and propose alternatives. For this, almost three year long debate, the final report of WCD was produced which highlights the problems caused by dams and introduces a new decision making model.
In November 1999, MAB organised its 4th National Congress and reaffirmed its commitment to fight against the neoliberal capitalist model and in favour of a Popular Project for Brazil, including a new Energy model. It was also reaffirmed that the movement’s organization model, be based on local groups, higher organization bodies and information dissemination structures.
In June 2003, the 1st National Encounter of the Movement of Dam Affected People took place in Brasília/DF. In November of the same year Thailand hosts the 2nd International Encounter of Dam Affected People. The following year, around 600 activists of MAB carry out the National March Waters for Life from Goiania to Brasilia and demand from the Federal Government the respect of the rights of the dam affected people.
In March 2006, takes place the 2nd National Encounter of the Movement of Dam Affected People in Curitiba/PR.
Without a doubt, MAB’s trajectory has been very rich in conflicts and victories. For sure, the organised affected people in any region have many stories to tell. Our commitment will always be to fight wherever and whenever there is injustice against anybody in any part of the world.