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An Indigenous Victory: Belo Monte Construction Suspended, At Least For Now

A "human banner" that reads "Stop Belo Monte" during occupation of dam construction site.

On August 14th, judges from Brazil’s Regional Federal Tribunal suspended the construction of Belo Monte— what would be the world’s third largest and most controversial hydroelectric dam. According to a recent press release, “The decision concludes that the Brazilian Constitution and ILO Convention 169, to which Brazil is party, require that Congress can only authorize the use of water resources for hydroelectric projects after an independent assessment of environmental impacts and subsequent consultations with affected indigenous peoples.” In the case of Belo Monte, such prior consultation did not occur with indigenous peoples before government approval of the project. Although Norte Energia, the multi-billion dollar project consortium of energy company Electrobras, received its construction license for the dam from Brazil’s Environmental Agency (IBAMA), an environmental impact assessment did not occur. However, energy and construction companies released a subsequent study, which was “widely criticized for underestimating socio-environmental impacts, especially on indigenous peoples and other traditional communities”. As stated by Federal Judge Souza Prudente, author of the ruling, “The court’s decision highlights the urgent need for the Brazilian government and Congress to respect the

indigenous participants of a Belo Monte hearing. source:

federal constitution and international agreements on prior consultations with indigenous peoples regarding projects that put their livelihoods and territories at risks. Human rights and environmental protection cannot be subordinated to narrow business interests.” Should construction continue, Norte Energia will face a daily fine of R$500,000, approximately US$250,000. It is expected that project consortium will appeal the decision in the Brazilian Supreme Court. Thus, while this ruling is a milestone in the struggle against Belo Monte, it could be a short-lived victory. That being said, indigenous protests against the dam have gained momentum and much recent international attention as tensions arose. At the end of June, parallel to the United Nations Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development, several indigenous groups led an occupation of the construction site. Unsatisfactory negotiations occurred between indigenous representatives and Norte Energia. As Norte Energia failed to properly address indigenous demands, Juruna and Arara indigenous authorities detained three engineers. If Belo Monte is completed, the dam would divert 80% of the Xingu River’s flow and flood roughly 150 square miles of land, as well displace at least 20,000 people. The main concerns against Belo Monte expressed by indigenous leaders include a decline in fish stocks, a reduction in water quality, an increase in issues of health such as malaria and dengue fever, and restrictions on boat navigation caused by cofferdams that would isolate many along the river from access to markets and health posts, among other services. Sources: Ahni. “Hundreds of Indigenous Peoples Occupy Belo Monte Dam Site.” Intercontinental Cry. 28 June 2012. Amazon Watch and International Rivers. “Amidst Broken Promises, Indigenous Authorities Detain Belo Monte Engineers.” Amazon Watch. 25 Jul. 2012. Amazon Watch, International Rivers, and the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense. “Belo Monte Suspended by Brazilian Appeals Court.” Amazon Watch. 15 Aug. 2012. Perkins, John. “Occupy the Dam: Brazil’s Indigenous Uprsiing.” YES! Magazine. 23 Jul. 2012.
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