Losing the Past

Brazil’s Threatened Archeological
Sites Include the Little Horny Man

In the 1970s Brazilians heard often that theirs was ‘the country of the future.’ The cliche was a weapon in the psychological warfare military rulers waged against those it could not control. And it met its match, in the form of a perfect comeback: ‘We just need to survive till then.’
Brazil may not be waiting any longer for that future, but its past may be gone even before it reaches it: recently discovered sites of ancient human occupation are already under threat. Mining and World Cup projects, and lack of regulation may doom efforts to preserve them.
Archeologists are racing to document and study more countless sites in several states where human artifacts and markings have been dated to some 8,000 years ago, before miners start digging for minerals, and construction crews rushed to finish long-delayed infrastructure projects. There’s little question about where the odds stack in this race.
It doesn’t help the situation the fact that the archeologists’ cause is far from being as popular as the Amazon Rainforest, or the indigenous peoples living in there. Although still facing the prospect of a quick demise, the cause for preservation of the forest has plenty of support and even glamour enough to remain relevant.
Archeological digs, on the other hand, are notoriously devoid of much appeal. The process of finding signs of early humans is daunting and time consuming, and often ignites more questions than answers about our origins. In other words, not sexy enough to justify annual, star-studded concerts at Carnegie Hall.
On top of that, or rather underneath it all, is the fact that Continue reading

Damned Project

Judge Sets Back Push to Halt
Newest Power Plant in Brazil

Brazil’s energy needs have pit the administration of President Dilma Rousseff against environmentalists and indigenous populations. Smack in the middle of this struggle sits the estimated $13 billion Monte Belo project, which is to become the world’s third largest dam.
The dispute has had its share of victories for each side, and the latest ruling, by a Supreme Court judge, has gone the government’s way, as it allowed the controversial project to resume construction. That may be far from settling the matter, however, as even Hollywood celebrities have joined in the fray.
The vision of Brazil as a self-reliant energy powerhouse has been a national theme even before it restored its democratic rule in the 1980s. To take advantage of an abundance of river basins to meet growing consumption needs has been an integral component of every president’s agenda ever since.
But most of this vision implies the construction of mega dams in areas surrounding the Amazon, and the impact on the environment and indigenous communities could be damaging and irreversible. Instead, critics say, Brazil should build a series of smaller and less costly projects, that wouldn’t be so disruptive.
Behind the apparent clash of two different views about how Brazil should tackle its energy needs, there’s also the charge, commonly leveled against the Rousseff administration, of playing favors with Brazil’s cultural and geographic differences. While the wealthier south usually sees its energy demands met, vast extensions of the north remain underserved and lawless.
This time around, what particularly distinguishes the dispute over Belo Monte is the reenergized activism of native Brazilians, the Continue reading