Press Release

Brazilian Environmental Activist Receives Alexander Soros Foundation Award

Antônia Melo Da Silva Seeks Reparations for Indigenous and Traditional Communities Displaced by the Belo Monte Dam Complex Amidst Corruption Scandal

New York, NY (October 10, 2017)–Antônia Melo Da Silva, a longtime Brazilian environmental activist, received the Alexander Soros Foundation Award for Environmental and Human Rights Activism today for her inspiring role leading campaigns to stop the construction of the Belo Monte dam and other harmful infrastructure projects in the Amazon rainforest. With the dam’s construction underway, she is now pushing for reparations for the indigenous communities that the project forced from their lands, on the Xingu river in the state of Pará, Brazil.

The Belo Monte dam has featured prominently in the corruption scandal currently embroiling Brazilian politics, with the construction consortium responsible for building the dam—Norte Energia Consortium—under investigation for allegedly paying millions in bribes to secure the concession. One Consortium executive has already been sentenced to a 19-year prison term for corruption and money laundering.

Two decades ago, Melo, a mother of five, founded the “Movimento Xingu Vivo Para Sempre,” a collective of social and environmental organizations in the Altamira region of Brazil impacted by the Belo Monte hydroelectric project. The movement brings together groups unified in their objection to the dam, including communities living along the river, fishermen, rural workers, urban dwellers, Indigenous Peoples, and religious and women’s organizations.

The “Xingu Vivo Para Sempre” has also partnered with movements from other Amazonian rivers in Brazil and neighboring countries. With support from the Xingu alliance, the Munduruku Indigenous Peoples of Brazil succeeded in suspending government plans to construct a mega-dam on the Tapajós River, another major tributary of the Amazon.

“The Belo Monte Dam is literally drowning the lungs of the earth, the Amazon rainforest, and clogging its arteries, the great Amazon river that brings water and food to millions of people,” said Alex Soros, founder of the Alexander Soros Foundation. “Against all odds, Antônia has refused to stay silent about this inefficient energy project, which will continue to irreversibly devastate the Amazon and the lives of peoples who rely upon the river and forests for survival for years to come. This year’s recipient has fought valiantly to show Brazil and the world that dams decimate lives, families and communities—this is an energy source that is anything but clean.”

The Belo Monte project was first proposed in 1975, but a full license to construct the dam complex—which will be the third largest hydroelectric dam in the world—was not granted until June of 2011. When construction is completed in 2019, the dam complex will comprise three dams and several dykes, creating the Calha do Xingu Reservoir, which will have the capacity of more than 2 billion cubic meters and surface area of nearly 130 square miles. However, the dam complex will flood 150 square miles of the Amazon rainforest, decimate migratory fisheries that feed and sustain riparian communities, and has already displaced 40,000 people.

In cities near Belo Monte, levels of violence, sexual exploitation of children, and human trafficking have surged, as the region was not prepared for the huge influx of workers brought in by the dam construction.

“The Belo Monte dam complex is a project of destruction,” said Antônia Melo da Silva. “The dam brings death to the flora, the fauna, countless indigenous and traditional cultures that live in the Xingu basin. Our people face increased violence, unemployment and misery because the government and a group of investors want to exploit our land and rivers for profit. I dedicated my life to campaigning against this project, and though it has gone ahead, I will keep on fighting against what Belo Monte represents: a destructive, unsustainable and unfeasible development model.”

Caio Borges of Conectas Human Rights, an NGO that supports Antônia and the “Xingu Vivo Para Sempre,” said, “Antônia Melo is a champion for all Indigenous Peoples and traditional communities. She has faced threats and losses and resistance of all kinds, and yet has remained undeterred in her fight for decades.

“As a result of the struggle led by Antônia against Belo Monte, there has been a major upsurge in public awareness and debate in Brazil on the disastrous social, environmental and economic consequences of large Amazonian dams—and enormous corruption schemes which have driven their construction. She is one of the heroes of the environmental and human rights movement, and I can’t think of anyone who deserves the Alexander Soros Foundation Award more than she does.”

Kate Horner, the executive director of the NGO International Rivers, said, “With the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam underway, Indigenous Peoples and the great Amazon river have joined the growing list of victims of Brazil’s huge corruption scandal. For too long, corruption has allowed dirty dams to run roughshod over people’s rights to their land, forests and rivers, and dam builders are rarely held accountable for the havoc they wreak.

“Antônia is standing up to powerful dam builders, and through her extraordinary bravery and tenacity, paving a path for true accountability. This award could not come at a better time, as tens of millions of people are at risk of either being displaced or losing their livelihood as 3,700 dams are proposed or underway around the world.”

The Alexander Soros Foundation Award for Environmental and Human Rights Activism, which annually recognizes activists working at the nexus of environmentalism and human rights, is chosen by a nominating committee comprising Global Witness Co-Founder Patrick Alley, Human Rights First President Elisa Massimino, human rights scholar Aryeh Neier, Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth, and attorney William Zabel. Antônia is the sixth winner of the award.

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About The Alexander Soros Foundation

Founded in 2012, The Alexander Soros Foundation is an organization dedicated to promoting civil rights, social justice and education by making grants to cutting-edge organizations in the United States and abroad. For more information, please visit http://alexsoros.com/grant-making/.

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