Belo Monte Licensing Quagmire Continues

Sting Meets Raoni to Protest Belo Monte Dam
Sting Meets Raoni to Protest Belo Monte Dam
  Beto Ricardo, Instituto Socioambeintal
The Belo Monte licensing battle continued to intensify as two top officials in the environmental protection service Ibama were canned after they refused to sign off on a license, and there are still reportedly some 16 issues to be resolved before a license could be considered.

This despite the fact that nearly daily statements in November by Brazil's Mines and Energy Minister, Edison Lobão, who confidently announced that the issuance of the license was imminent.

Leozildo Tabajara da Silva Benjamin, one of the officials who asked to be replaced said "There was a lot of haste and pressure. How can a minister say the license will be issued on a certain day?"

Among outstanding issues on which Ibama has solicited additional information from state company Eletrobrás are water quality downstream from the dam, more information about the size of the migration expected to the region by those looking for work, and impacts on biodiversity.

Ibama's new licensing coordinator now says the license may only be issued in 2010. The project auction, planned for December 21, has already been postponed.

In recent weeks, Belo Monte has attracted the attention of diverse figures, including Sting, who was asked for help by chief Raoni of the Kayapó. Sting held a press conference before his show in São Paulo to demand that the indigenous people be heard.

Marina Silva, who is expected to be a presidential candidate, also weighed in on Belo Monte during a hearing of the Senate Human Rights Commission. She said the project lacked a "sustainable development plan" for the region, and argued that the Congress should not be a rubber stamp for approving projects affecting indigenous lands.

Not even the real cost of Belo Monte is clear at this time. The government says it will cost $9.5 billion (not including interest during construction) while private companies estimate the cost as high as $17 billion. It appears likely that investors will want the controversial project to be somewhat better defined before it goes to auction, possibly not before February, 2010.