Brazil’s PAC 2 Spells Environmental Disaster

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Dead trees in Balbina Reservoir

Pedro Ivo Simoes

The Brazilian government is planning the second phase of its PAC or Growth Acceleration Program. While Belo Monte Dam is the jewel of PAC 1, PAC 2 includes the construction of over 50 hydroelectric plants in Brazil over the next 4 years, spelling disaster for Brazil’s rivers.

The Growth Acceleration Program (PAC) is an investment plan launched by the Brazilian government in 2007 whose main goal is to promote large-scale infrastructure projects throughout the country for advancing economic development. The program is essentially a series of public works projects, which include many massive dams in the Amazon. The initiative was expected to promote investments of US$288.9 billion from 2007 to 2010 in five main areas: housing, sanitation, energy, transport and water resources. This was expected to increase Brazil’s GDP by 5% during the four-year period.

Belo Monte dam is the biggest and most symbolic project in PAC. However, hydroelectric projects are being developed in more than 10 river basins, including 7 of the main Amazon river tributaries: Tapajós, Araguaia, Jari, Trombetas, Branco, Madeira and Juruema. Besides the highly destructive “Belo Monstro” Dam, PAC includes other controversial dams such as Jirau and Santo Antônio on the Madeira River.

Growth Acceleration Program (PAC) and Protected Areas

Instituto Socioambiental

PAC projects have been associated with corruption and fraud. Irregularities were found in 30 of 88 projects analyzed by the Brazil’s Court of Audit (TCU) and court rulings have suspended 13 PAC projects due to corruption. Recently, the son of Brazil’s Vice President Jose Sarney was accused of corrupting the bidding process of the North-South railroad, favoring certain contractors, which included ghost companies. The project is part of PAC, Lula’s showcase. Fernando Sarney is also accused of diverting public money by overpricing the North-South railroad.

As of writing, more than half of the projects planned for PAC have not been completed and many more of its projects have been associated with corruption, flaws and irregularities. The plan seems to be a failure, yet instead of abandoning it, the government has released PAC 2 – its next incarnation. Many critics of PAC see PAC 2 as a re-release of projects that have not yet been executed.

As if the enormity of the construction promoted by the PAC and its empty political promises were not enough, PAC2 promises to be even more ambitious and problematic. The government plans to invest a massive US$910 billion on over 10,000 projects between 2011 and 2014, most of them in the housing, energy, transport, and education sectors. 68% of this enormous amount, about US$620 billion, is planned for the energy sector alone.

Raoni and Lula

José Cruz/ABr

Fantastic propaganda and grandiose fanfare seem to be the mark of both PACs. Announcing the second phase of the program, President Lula called on Brazilian politicians to "think big". He added that "there is no room for small policy; there is no room for small programs." Such megalomaniac promises remind us of the inauguration of PAC1, which was also marked by pomp and tirades.

PAC2 will especially promote hydroelectric power. Over 50 hydropower dams are projected to be built in the next 4 years, many in the Amazon Basin. The government claims that the aim of the program is to promote sustainable development and is promising a cleaner and greener dam that they are calling “platform plants”. Modeled on oil platforms, the idea is that the projects would be built without roads (that open up areas to logging, ranching and exploitation) and instead that construction would take place on platforms that would be destroyed after the project is built, ensuring that the plant is isolated. A total of 10 plants of this model and yet another 44 conventional hydroelectric plants are proposed in PAC2.

However, it is important to bear in mind that even though the government is marketing this new technology as revolutionary; its efficacy has not been proved. The government sells this program as "clean", but given the mega-projects of Belo Monte, Jirau, Santo Antônio and the more than 50 dams proposed in PAC2, they can hardly talk about sustainability. Brazilian and international social movements fear the disastrous and irreparable harm that would be caused by the construction of so many dams.

Dilma Rousseff, Lula's official candidate

Antônio Cruz/ABr

Many believe that PAC2 is a maneuver to boost Dilma’s electoral race for the presidency of Brazil. Lula’s official candidate is promoting the package of projects as her main campaign platform and is known in Brazil and internationally as the "mother of the PAC." Allegations that Lula is using the publication of PAC 2 as a means to promote the candidacy of Dilma were already filed in Brazil’s Electoral Court and await a decision.

The truth is that the country of PAC has not seen an acceleration of growth, but can clearly perceive that empty promises are repeated in the midst of electoral interests, corruption, and in the shadow of new unsustainable hydroelectric projects.