Magazine article New Internationalist

Toxic Promises

Magazine article New Internationalist

Toxic Promises

Article excerpt

I descend the steps of Cabelo Seco's House of Rivers cultural centre, leaving the AfroRoots pulse of its youth community drummers behind me, and cross the cracked street. I step over scattered beer cans and uncollected waste from the night before, on to the chipped kerb of the waterfront and lean across the rusted railings. Tucunaré Island is barely visible, 200 metres away. Acrid fog from weeks of burning forests smothers this southeastern region of Pará State, choking Marabá City and crowding its hospitals with asthmatic children and babies. It hasn't rained in five months.

Zequinha, village songwriter and fisher, joins me. 'This ash is as much from the fires in California and Australia, carried by the wind, as it is from here,' he reflects. He shakes his head at the parched riverbed. 'Our rivers in the sky have dried up. Now we suffer the effects on the other side of the world.' The meeting of two rivers, the mighty Tocantins and the sinewy Itacaiúnas, has sharpened into a stony arrowhead that points to the River Araguaia and its arid plain on the near horizon. 'We'll soon be able to walk across the Tocantins!'

Forests of castanheira and sumaúma trees that once sheltered Zequinha's grandparents in their resistance quilombo· on that plain were felled for 'electricity for all'. Like all Amazonian riverside communities, Cabelo Seco's Afro-indigenous fisherfolk and 'washerwomen' were not consulted before the federal government's Accelerated Development Project bulldozed their allotments that stretched down to the river to build the waterfront. No politician consulted scientists from the Federal University's alternative energy project in the capital, Belém, to allow the city to assess scientifically the impacts of the planned Marabá Hydroelectric Dam. But everyone knows what will happen if the dam is built to power the mining of the world's largest iron reserves, beneath their homes. They read the toxic effects of the Tucuruí Dam 40 kilometres away in rashes on their skin, their children going blind, the swarms of dengue mosquitos, their empty fishing nets. They know that when the Tocantins becomes a river-highway in an industrial grid of other river-highways and dams, river-sources will dry up and the result will be ecocide.

Zequinha laughs. We know the fisherfolk will not speak out. Centuries of genocide, slavery and the memory of hooded activists suspended upside down over Tucunaré Island by the former military dictatorship, silence them. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.