Brazilian Catholic Bishop Luiz Cappio has entered the third week of his
hunger strike against the diversion of water from the São Francisco river, in
the arid northeast of Brazil. Earlier this week, a regional legal ruling
declared as illegal the building permit and juridically suspended the
construction work of the canals.
Nonetheless, Brazilian Army, which is in charge of the excavation and has been working on the project for more than five months hasn’t ceased operations. According to the responsible general at the construction site, official information regarding the legal decision has not yet been sent to the military base at the construction site in Cabrobó, Pernambuco state.
The legal decision is based upon the fact that the Nation Water Council (CNRH) in its decision to approve the river diversion project has ignored the opinions of the São Francisco River committee (CBHSF) and its water management plan.
Judge Souza Prudente’s ruling on December 10 preliminarily suspended the National Water Council’s Resolution 47/2005 (17/1), which had approved the river diversion project.
The Federal Government Defense Lawyers (Advocacia Geral da União, AGU) have declared that the government will raise an objection at the Supreme Court against this recent judgment regarding the former Supreme Court decision. According to AGU, only the Supreme Court has competence to judge the legal actions in course in relation to the river diversion project.
Therefore all attention is turned upon the Supreme Court. It is considered likely that the Supreme Court will rule on the case before Christmas Holidays.
Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva met Dom Geraldo Lyrio Rocha, president of the Brazilian Bishop Conference (CNBB) and its general secretary Dom Dimas Barbosa on December 12.
During the meeting they discussed the conflict about the river diversion project. The bishops stressed the necessity for more public debate on the polemical issue and declared that they would not consider Dom Cappio’s protest as suicide.
The Bishop Conference offered to be the mediator between Dom Cappio and the government. However, Lula insisted to continue with the project.
Although Bishop Cappio has entered the third week of his hunger strike and so far the national TV mass media still have not reported on the case. Even after the juridical intervention on December 10 suspending the construction permits the mainstream TV kept silent.
In the meantime, the army contingent in the construction site area has been increased and even tanks were brought to the construction site in Cabrobó, Pernambuco.
On the other hand Dom Cappio reaffirmed his decision that he only will stop his hunger strike, if the army is withdrawn from the construction site and the project is definitively interrupted.
The São Francisco Diversion
The river diversion project consists of two canals that total 700 km linking the São Francisco waters to the semiarid area in the northeastern states of Ceará, Rio Grande do Norte, Pernambuco and Paraíba.
Several studies have shown that the project will create severe social and ecological damage. It will affect the livelihoods of many fishing communities along the river and 22 indigenous groups. Actually already impacted by the construction works are the indigenous territories of Truká, Pipipã, Kambiwá, Pankará, and Pankararu in Pernambuco and the Tumbalalá in Bahia.
Moreover it will promote an agrarian structure in the Northeast dominated by export-oriented agribusiness including shrimp cultivation. The main part of the derived water would be used by the shrimp industry, made up of large and medium sized companies, which produce for export.
A further huge amount will be used by the steel plants near the city of Fortaleza, in the northeastern state of Ceará, run by the Ceará Steel company, an international consortium of Italian, South Korean and Brazilian capital, including the Vale do Rio Doce mining company and the National Development Bank (BNDES).
The river diversion project severely affects the livelihoods of several indigenous and fishing communities failing to respect and protect their right to water and their land rights.
Construction work is carried out on their territories and the water level is affected which will threaten their access to water and impede fishing. The Brazilian government fails to prioritize investment in the Northeast to fulfill the right to water of the poor population. Instead it gives absolute investment priority to infrastructure supporting agro-business.
There are cheaper alternatives to bring water to that semiarid region of Brazil. There are models of water-use which would secure the peasants’ water supply in the area and which, according to independent investigators, would cost about half the amount of 6,6 billion reais (US$ 3.73 billion) to be invested in the transposition project.