As Tensions Rise, Controversial Belo Monte Dam Faces New Legal Challenge

International Rivers and Amazon Watch
Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Federal Public Prosecutors allege 40% of social and environmental conditions have not been met by project consortium

Brasilia, Brazil – Last week's decision by IBAMA, Brazil's federal environmental agency, to grant a license allowing full-fledged construction on the controversial Belo Monte Dam Complex on the Xingu River has spurred a new wave of legal challenges and protests throughout Brazil.

Yesterday, Brazil's Federal Public Prosecutor (MPF) filed its 11th civil action lawsuit against the Belo Monte project, demanding immediate suspension of the installation license due to non-compliance with a series of social and environmental safeguards that IBAMA itself stipulated as prerequisites for dam construction to commence. According to an internal IBAMA report, at least 40% of required actions – in such areas as health, education, sanitation and protection of indigenous lands – were not met by the dam consortium Norte Energia, S.A. (NESA).  

The Brazilian government's insistence on fast-tracking the Belo Monte project in violation of its own laws, along with growing evidence of the project's lack of economic viability, have intensified opposition throughout the country. Since the installation license was issued last week, street protests have erupted in seven Brazilian cities, including São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Salvador and Belém. Over the weekend, the Kayapó indigenous people, led by legendary Chief Raoni, staged a protest in the town of Colider and vowed to put their lives on the line to resist the Belo Monte Dam.

“IBAMA's decision to issue the installation license maintains a longstanding pattern of authoritarian disregard for environmental law and the rights of indigenous peoples and other local communities,” said Antônia Melo, coordinator of the Movimento Xingu Vivo para Sempre. “The consequences of Belo Monte in the city of Altamira are already painfully clear: urban violence and land speculation have intensified in recent months, while health, education and sanitation facilities are increasingly overstretched. We're living in a state of chaos." 

According to public prosecutors, the consortium has yet to implement critical improvements in health, education and sanitation in the city of Altamira. Worse still, the lawsuit notes that the developer claimed to have begun several projects in health and education, which IBAMA found did not exist in early May. The lawsuit alleges that this potentially amounts to criminal misconduct by the dam consortium.

“The failure by the NESA consortium to comply with conditionalities, and to lie about it, bodes badly for the future,” said Brent Millikan, Amazon Program Director at International Rivers. “What’s even worse is the Brazilian government’s apparent willingness to violate all its own laws in order to steamroll through a project that is not in the best interests of the Brazilian people. The growing protests across the country show that Brazilians will not stand for such injustices. The battle is not yet over.”

Over the last two weeks, leading Brazilian scientists and academics have sent letters to President Dilma Rousseff calling on the federal government to rethink its steamrolling of the mega-dam project. A major source of criticism from civil society groups, both in Brazil and abroad, has been the federal government's aggressive response to recommendations from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, part of the Organization of American States (OAS), regarding the need to respect indigenous peoples' rights. This week, Brazilian and international NGOs denounced the Belo Monte project in New York at the general assembly of the OAS and the UN Human Rights Council. Concerns are growing throughout Brazil that the Belo Monte Dam and attempts to roll back the country's forestry code may become a major international embarrassment, just as the country prepares to host the Rio +20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development in 2012.

Media contacts: 

Brent Millikan, International Rivers: +55 61 8153 7009,
Christian Poirier, Amazon Watch: +1 510 666 7565,
Ruy Marques Sposati, Movimento Xingu Vivo, + 55 93 9173 8389,