In July 2019, Marion Romero and Julio Sanchez participated in the Energy and Society in Contemporary Capitalism course offered by the Movement of People Affected by Dams (MAB) in partnership with the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  This was the first of four 2-week sessions that span over 2 years with different water protectors and grassroots leaders from across Latin America. Below is a reportback for GGJ members from some of what they are learning from this political development opportunity. 

When we first learned about the Energy and Society in Contemporary Capitalism course that MAB was inviting GGJ and It Takes Roots to attend, we didn’t know the full extent of what we would be learning. We were drawn to the opportunity to study the privatization of public resources the Brazilian society is confronting, and also visit a South American country experiencing their own version of “Trumpism” after the recent election of the right wing demagogue, Jair Bolsonaro.Once we arrived and we got over lush greenery, the breathtaking views and the fantastic landscape of miles and miles of beautiful beaches; we focused on what we were there to study. 

Brazil, and other Latin American countries are experiencing the latest example of colonial-like policies. In the past, the United States and other European societies have looked toward Africa, Asia and Latin America as sources of minerals, places to dedicate to single crop exploitation such as bananas or sugar cane and later places where corporations could build or assemble industries cheaply to produce the maximum gain when the final product was sold in the US or European market. Now the game is the same, but the stakes are higher and the currencies are water and energy. All at the cost of the natural habitat and the people.

Brazil’s immense water resources are being privatized by the government to produce energy. Rivers that have freely run through communities for centuries to cultivate the land, sustain natural habitats and enclose sites sacred to indigenous cultures are being walled by dams. These dams are producing enormous amounts of energy, yet this energy is being used to power privately owned factories that produce and assemble goods for multinational corporations and do not leave their profits in Brazil. Conversely, these communities are being robbed of their water, farms, homes, ancestral sites and sacred lands. These tangible and intangible resources are being lost to the rising waters enclosed by the dams. And the communities are not receiving compensation for these damming practices. But that is not the worst part.

The worst part can be summoned by two names; Mariana and Brumadinho. These are the names of two dams which burst disastrously near small mining towns. What ensued was a hellish tsunami of strongly smelling mud and water with the outcome being the death of hundreds of people, the displacement of tens of thousands of local residents, the contamination of land and the loss of natural habitat. This has been described as the biggest environmental disaster to hit the country.

MAB gathered us in order to educate us on these disasters but to also educate us on the bigger picture in order for the group to create solutions for their respective communities. The first portion of the course was divided into four sections around the history of the environmental movement of Brazil, history of power and control since the beginning of time, the history of economy and lastly a deep dive into the meaning of  labor, commodities, exploitation and the concept of value through a marxist lense. Through each of these sessions we were able to explore just how strong of a grasp capitalism has on the world, especially how big of a role the United States has in contributing to capitalism and how difficult it would be to shift to an alternative.  

The energy course became a place of empowerment through knowledge and personal story sharing.  There are about 50+ participants coming from all 26 states and one federal district in Brazil as well as participants from Colombia, Cuba, Venezuela and the United States. By spending so much time together learning about the fundamentals of capitalism and the great tolls is has on our communities we have also created a space where we are sharing our truths and realities and creating trust and solidarity with each other. Learning in this way and having access to this knowledge has also created a way for us to learn more about  just how big of an impact our decisions and actions in the US has on the countries in the Global South. Therefore we have also created a space to learn what we can do to create change and learn of an actual future where our communities are the ones leading.

Through personal story sharing we learned from Venezuela what an extreme situation would look like when a foreign government deeply rooted in capitalism meddles in the internal affairs of a country following an alternative economic and social path. We were also able to learn about alternatives, such as the community centered energy policy Cuba is implementing.  Cuba’s government does such an amazing job of making sure that it’s people are given the tools to succeed and govern for themselves and it was truly inspiring to learn from the folks attending the conference because they have so much knowledge to share and give so much hope.

Overall we had an amazing time in Brazil and are excited for what the second portion will bring!