PR – Broken Promises at Belo Monte

Instituto Socioambiental (ISA)
Saturday, June 27, 2015
Indigenous activists occupying Belo Monte in 2012
Indigenous activists occupying Belo Monte in 2012
International Rivers

Document highlights consequences of disregard for required mitigation and compensation measures, as federal environmental agency evaluates whether to authorize operation of mega-dam project

At the local office in Altamira of Norte Energia, the dam consortium responsible for Belo Monte, a calendar points out: "only 64 days until the Operating License."  Already taken for granted, the final environmental permit for the dam project was formally requested from the federal environmental agency, IBAMA, on February 11, 2015. This week, the Brazilian NGO Instituto Socioambiental (ISA) releases a dossier demonstrating that much remains to be resolved regarding socio-environmental responsibilities prior to issuing an operating license for Belo Monte that would authorize filling the dam’s reservoir.

The dossier provides an overview of major errors and omissions, both on the part of Norte Energia and the federal government, in complying with socio-environmental obligations related to Belo Monte. The report brings together a collection of 24 articles written by experts, researchers and institutional representatives that, over the past five years, have closely monitored disparities between dam construction and implementation of measures that were supposed to mitigate and compensate the project’s impacts in the region.

Belo Monte dossier published this week by ISA
Belo Monte dossier published this week by ISA
Photo: Instituto Socioambiental

The dossier alerts that in a final stage of environmental licensing, unmet obligations cannot be postponed to a subsequent phase of project implementation, as has repeatedly occurred since the first phase license was issued by IBAMA in early 2010.  If an operating license is issued without satisfactory compliance with all socio-environmental measures legally required for the dam’s operation, there won’t be another opportunity to demand solutions for problems caused by the project.

The dossier denounces that fundamental issues for the Amazon region have been treated with absolute neglect. A major increase in illegal logging, undermining of the livelihoods of indigenous peoples, destruction of fishing activities in the region and a highly controversial process of forced resettlement involving urban and rural populations all demonstrate the serious consequences of failures that have occurred throughout project implementation.

Families residing on islands and the banks of the Xingu River have been forced to leave their homes and productive areas without receiving alternative housing to ensure continuity of forms of social organization and decent living conditions.  Resettlement projects have been located far away from the river, preventing families from maintaining their main productive activity: fishing. The document describes the ineffectiveness over the past five years of actions taken to prevent or reduce the project’s impacts on indigenous peoples. The integrity of indigenous lands is threatened due to pressures caused by population growth in the region. Cachoeira Seca, located in the area impacted by Belo Monte, was the indigenous territory most impacted by deforestation in Brazil in 2013, the same year that a federal court had to demand that Norte Energia begin implementation of a territorial protection plan agreed upon in 2010. Indigenous health indicators are also alarming. The infant mortality rate of the indigenous population in the region, which was already high, increased 127% between 2010 and 2012.

Legal orders

The dossier recalls that the federal government managed to overturn court orders that paralyzed dam construction at Belo Monte through a legal instrument commonly used during the military dictatorship known as Security Suspension (Suspensão de Segurança), which is based on the idea that timetables for dam construction are more relevant than the rights of affected populations.

The dossier questions how a huge infrastructure project largely managed by the federal government, financed by the National Development Bank  (BNDES), patrolled by the National Guard, and supervised by IBAMA has failed to ensure that even a single hospital would become operational during the three-year height of dam construction, or how required improvements in water supply and sewage infrastructure could be rendered useless due to lack of coordination in responsibilities and poor public management. In that context, the document draws attention to the difficulty of establishing effective spaces for social control, including the lack of an independent oversight mechanism regarding project implementation. Such problems trace back to the origins of Belo Monte, especially the manner in which the project was imposed on Brazilian society in the absence of prior consultations with indigenous peoples, with public hearings that were treated as mere formalities.

For the authors of the report, the series of mistakes that have characterized Belo Monte must not be repeated elsewhere in the Amazon. The document, entitled “Dossier Belo Monte - There are no conditions for an Operating License,” and an accompanying  collection of articles are intended to be instruments for local populations of urban areas, rural settlements, and Amazonian rivers to defend their rights at a late moment when accountability may still be demanded regarding injustices committed in the licensing and construction of Belo Monte before its first turbine begins to rotate.

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