MAB celebrates 30 years of resistance and struggle for an energy project that serves the people

Affected by dams organize a series of activities throughout the month to celebrate the three decades of existence

In March 1991, 30 years ago, was born the Movement of the Affected by Dams (MAB), a national union in defense of thousands of Brazilians impacted directly by hydroelectric power plant construction, dams for mineral tailings, and other enterprises aimed at the extraction of natural resources.

To celebrate the historic milestone, MAB organizes a series of actions and events for the coming weeks. Because of the International Day of Women’s Struggle, for example, an online political and cultural event with women from the Workers’ and Peasants’ Platform for Water and Energy.
This Sunday, March 14, International Day of Struggle of the Affected and Affected by Dams, will take place a Day of Struggles with local symbolic acts and actions.

“These 30 years bring us a lot of symbolism and challenges, but it is also a milestone in which we celebrate our achievements and victories. It is necessary to rescue what these achievements were and celebrate with all those who helped the movement in this trajectory, “says Nívea Diógenes, from the National Coordination of MAB.

A member of the movement since 2006, she says that organized, those affected have already managed to stop the construction of plants and ensure changes in projects to ensure the rights of the local population. Fruits of a struggle whose roots are well over three decades old.
As Iury Paulino recalls, also from the national coordination of the movement, the construction of dams for the supply of energy for large industrial projects became a strategy of the Brazilian state in the mid-1980s, still under the military dictatorship.

But, in the name of economic development, Paulino points out, the enterprises did not take into account the social and environmental consequences of exploitation, which, over the years, expelled thousands of people from their lands and homes.

It was in this context that those affected reacted and began to organize themselves in regional commissions in defense of the return of land, relocation, and other rights as affected, planting the seed of what would become, years later, a unified and national articulation.

“The trajectory of the MAB dates back to this historical process of violations of the energy model, abandonment of the affected populations, resistance, and organization, having at its root resistance to the military dictatorship”, details Paulinus, citing the context of the effervescence of popular movements and parties at that time.

Several national meetings and meetings were held at the end of the 1980s, leading up to the First National Congress of People Affected by Dams, which was concluded on March 14, 1991. In 2021, the organization is based in 19 Brazilian states.

“MAB struggles to repair the damage and not to build dams of all nature where it is impossible to build because we know that the damage is much greater than the benefits supposedly brought by the projects”, says the activist.

Also resuming the history of the organization, Nívea Diógenes explains that the privatizations of the state in the FHC government, in the early 1990s, further boosted the organization of the affected. Privatizations have changed diametrically the Brazilian energy sector, intensifying the consequences felt by local communities.

“With the privatization of the sector, it is the international capital that takes control of the companies. It is the latter that gives credit. We are a sovereign country in terms of electricity, but what is produced about energy is not for the Brazilian people, it is for capital”, criticizes the leader. “Today, energy in Brazil is a mere commodity. It is sold at international prices and the ones who pay the bill are the Brazilians with high tariffs”.

For another project

Since the beginning of the MAB, those affected act on three fronts. The first, according to Iury Paulino, can be considered as a trade union front, since the main focus of the organization is the defense of the populations affected by harmful enterprises.

The second front is that of the organization also as a political movement since political formation has always been a central pillar of the MAB in the struggle for social transformation.

The third is the continuous mobilization for a popular energy model that allows the distribution of wealth among Brazilians.

“International capital has always had an interest in energy production here. The Brazilian energy model is the result of the exploitation and looting of natural resources that we have to favor corporations, especially international ones,” says Paulino.

The foundations that forge this project are sovereignty, participation, and control by citizens. “We defend that the wealth produced by energy serves the Brazilian people and not to meet the demands of shareholders of international capital. And for that, we need popular control, that people say how energy should be produced, that they can assess and define the feasibility of building an energy enterprise. And, if there are social and environmental impacts, the population can say no, “he explains.

“Have you ever thought if the wealth that is generated from oil, with hydroelectric and solar power plants were distributed to the Brazilian people to acquire housing and build colleges? It is this dimension that we find central, “projects the militant.

Mariana and Brumadinho

The MAB was also present and continues to support families affected by the two major socio-environmental tragedies of recent years in Brazil.

In November 2015, the breaking of the Fundão dam, owned by Samarco (Vale and BHP Billiton), in Mariana (MG), exposed how damaging the current exploitation model is.

There were 19 deaths, thousands of people displaced, and without drinking water. More than five years later, the population of the municipality still lives with the consequences and impacts on physical and mental health to date.

More than 600 kilometers of the Doce River were destroyed, causing the death of fish and marine biodiversity on the coast of Espírito Santo.

In 2019, the tragedy was repeated with the breaking of the Vale dam in the Córrego do Feijão, in Brumadinho (MG), when 272 people died buried in the mud. The Paraopeba River has been contaminated by ore waste and has not yet fully regenerated.

The MAB strengthened the organization of those affected in the region and denounced, at national and international level, the deaths caused by the predatory mining model and the insecurity of the dams in the country.

According to Iury Paulino, over the decades, the concept of people affected by dams has expanded and currently encompasses not only those affected by hydroelectric plants or by mining, but also victims of flooding in urban centers.

“This model that we live in, this concept of organization of society, will continue to generate victims. Continue generating affected people to the hills because it has no social and environmental commitment”, denounces.


The 30-year milestone of the MAB is also considered by those affected a moment to honor those who lost their lives in the name of collective struggle.

Among them, Nilce de Souza Magalhães, known as Nicinha, fisherman and regional leader of MAB, hit by the Jirau Hydroelectric Plant on the Madeira River in Rondônia (RO). She disappeared on January 7, 2016, and was found dead 5 months later.

The same happened to Dilma Ferreira da Silva, a militant in the state of Pará, who was affected by the dam at the Tucuruí Hydroelectric Plant. She was brutally murdered on March 22, 2019, inside her own home, in retaliation for her political actions.

Nívea Diógenes also recalls the struggle of Berta Cárceres, leader of the Popular Civil Council of Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), who opposed the construction of a hydroelectric dam on the Gualcarque River, considered sacred by the Lenca indigenous community, for years.
The private company responsible for the project, Desarrollos Energéticos Sociedad Anónima (Desa), is linked to powerful families in the country of Central America and has not opened dialogue at any time with the indigenous people.

In March 2016, gunmen broke into the home of Berta Cárceres and murdered her.  The executioners of the crime have been sentenced to sentences of between 30 and 50 years, but the masterminds of the death remain unscathed.

“We lost many comrades who dared to fight to defend collective rights. On their behalf, we reaffirm our efforts to ensure that all those affected have their rights guaranteed, “says the MAB’s national coordinator.

Nívea adds that the protagonism of women, even more, vulnerable by the current energy project, is central to the movement. As well as the transmission of debates on energy, human rights, and environment, shared from generation to generation militants. “There are many at MAB who are not yet MAB’s age,” she says, celebrating the ongoing renewal of the organization…


The celebration of the 30th anniversary of the MAB has an extensive program of activities and political actions.

Over the next few weeks, those affected will hand out agendas for municipalities and governments related to local issues, as well as pressuring the Brazilian Parliament and the Judiciary to hold meetings with the MAB coordinators. 

The approval of the National Policy on the Rights of Populations Affected by Dams, (PL 2788/19), currently frozen in the Senate, is another central demand of the MAB for the next period, as well as the strengthening of reparation to those affected by the crimes of Mariana and Brumadinho.

In addition to the journey of struggles this March 14, the next day 16, at 19h, will take place a political and cultural act online to celebrate the history of the movement open to the public,
On the 22nd, World Water Day and the date that marks the assassination of the hit Dilma Ferreira, there will also be political and religious activities.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the MAB also claims the permanent inclusion of families in social energy tariffs, from subsidies, and the distribution of kitchen gas at fair prices.
Those affected also raise the banners of wide vaccination of the Brazilian population and the return of emergency aid of R$600.
“We celebrate and celebrate these 30 years of history of struggles and achievements of the movement, as well as our legacy as political subjects for social change in Brazil. We reaffirm that as a social movement we are committed to continuing the struggle with those affected to build a more just and egalitarian society, “concludes Nívea Diógenes.

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