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How Brazilian Taxpayer Money Finances Construction Projects in the Amazon

Animation: BNDES in the Amazon

Animation: BNDES in the Amazon

This post, by Bruno Fonseca and Jessica Mota, was originally published in Portuguese as a part of Agência Pública's special coverage #BNDESnaAmazônia with the title Animation | How Our Money Finances Construction Works in the Amazon on December 9, 2013.

Nearly 44 percent of what Brazil's National Bank of Economic and Social Development (BNDES) finances is completely hidden. And more than half of what BNDES sends overseas is secret. This is how the bank deals with transparency, even though the money is public and comes from, for example, the Brazilian Treasury and the Ministry of Labor and Employment's Worker's Support Fund.

In 2012, BNDES loaned 156 billion Brazilian reais (64 billion US dollars) of this public money. It was in the search of what happened to this money over the course of three months that our team discovered the scope of investments in infrastructure in the Amazon where these public works are causing glaring social and environmental impacts.  See the primary discoveries in this animation (the English translation of the subtitles are available below):


BNDES (Brazil's National Bank of Economic and Social Development) is a public bank. Most of its money comes from public funds, that is to say, taxes paid by the people. In 2012 alone, BNDES loaned 156 billion reais (64 billion US dollars) – this is twice as much the World Bank loaned in the same year.

But where does all this money go to? A big part is for infrastructure projects in the Amazon. Billionaire projects such as the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam which has received more than 25 million reais from BNDES (10 million US dollars). The first evidence we discovered was that BNDES doesn't want Brazilians to know much about the money it lends.

Over the course of three months, we downloaded hundreds of spreadsheets and reports, we submitted a dozen requests for access to information, and we sent more than 30 emails to BNDES.

We discovered that out of 20 major infrastructure investments made by BNDES in the Amazon, at least 17 of them have public lawsuits against them from Brazil's public prosecutor's office.

The Belo Monte hydroelectric power plant has 21 suits, many of them questioning its environmental impact. Pará's power plants has 13 suits, most of them demanding reforms to the precarious power supply. At the dams in Jirau and Santo António, 13 workers have died since 2008.

In Ecuador, BNDES funded a hydroelectric dam with cracks. In Peru, a pipeline with leaks.

But how can we prevent our money from ending up in such a mess? Experts believe that the rules for investment should be more rigid and that BNDES should monitor the construction companies.

As always, it is essential to be informed. Read Publica's special coverage on BNDES in the Amazon.

On the Agência Pública website, the reports from the series #BNDESnaAmazônia (BNDES in the Amazon) are available for reading (all in Portuguese), including:

THE TRAIL OF BNDES IN THE AMAZON. A partnership between Agência Pública and the website Eco maps the increase of BNDES’ investments in infrastructure projects in the region. Public works financed by the bank are accused of concealing the impacts on the environment, the indigenous population, and workers.

BNDES IN THE AMAZON: 17 OF 20 MAJOR INVESTMENTS HAVE PUBLIC SUITS AGAINST THEM FROM BRAZIL'S PUBLIC MINISTRY. A survey by Agência Pública and the website Eco reveals problems with environmental impact studies, a lack of dialogue with the affected communities, and abuses against workers involved in the public works financed by the bank.

WORKERS HOSTAGE TO PUBLIC WORKS WORTH BILLIONS IN THE AMAZON. Deaths in Maranhão, workers forced by National Forces to stay at a work site at Belo Monte. Accused of violating worker's rights, mega enterprises receive funding from BNDES.

TWO REPORTERS ON THE TRAIL OF BILLIONS GIVEN BY BNDES. Over the course of three months, our team sought to uncover the trail of investments in infrastructure projects in the Amazon. The conclusion: 44 percent of what BNDES finances is completely obscured.

BNDES, FOR EXPORTATION. In the name of internationalization, BNDES funding for Brazilian enterprises overseas increased 1185 percent in ten years, according to a study by Ibase. Odebrecht is the leader.

THE BRAZILIAN PAN-AMAZON. Public works negotiated by BNDES in the South American Amazon include hydroelectric dams with cracks, pipelines with leaks, and a railroad that shook the presidency of Bolivia.

THE AMAZON THAT BNDES FINANCES. By the law of access to information, Pública obtained 43 contracts from BNDES with large national corporations for business ventures in the Amazon. Read and download these documents here.

The information collected also served as a base for the development of the interactive platform “BNDES na Amazônia“, a partnership between Pública and Eco:

Interactive Infograph: The 20 Major Projects Financed By BNDES in the Amazon. Screenshot from the site BNDESnaAmazonia.org

Interactive Infographic: The 20 Major Projects Financed By BNDES in the Amazon. Screenshot from the site BNDESnaAmazonia.org

The National Bank of Economic and Social Development (BNDES) is the primary financier of large projects in the Amazon. Utilizing funds from the Worker's Support Fund and contributions made by the Federal Treasury, the bank finances consortiums and businesses responsible for the construction of dams for the generation of hydroelectric power, power lines, thermoelectric projects and other projects with great environmental impact. This database, fruit of the labor of investigations made by a joint effort between the sites Eco and Agência Pública, concentrates information about funding given by BNDES in the Amazon and allows the user to become familiar with the profile of the companies receiving funding, the total invested resources in each project, as well as the ranking of investments since 2008. The data [available for download in CSV format] was put together from spreadsheets available on the site of BNDES and will be updated.

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