Hydroelectric Dams in Pará and Two Serious Legal Offenses: Omission and Leniency

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

On International Human Rights Day, December 10th, we demand JUSTICE NOW for the cases of Belo Monte, Teles Pires and Tapajós. 

Omission: lack of action in the fulfillment of an obligation
Leniency: tolerance towards something unlawful or prohibited

Photo courtesy of Xingu Vivo
Photo courtesy of Xingu Vivo

"We, the indigenous people of the Juruna community of Paquiçamba, are concerned with the construction of the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam because we will be without means of transportation and our livelihoods will be threatened. The decrease in the river’s flow will diminish game for hunting and bring more mosquitos that will increase cases of malaria. The forest will suffer strongly from drought and the diversion of rivers and streams (…)."
Excerpt from a letter to the Federal Public Prosecutors in Altamira by the indigenous Juruna community of the Volta Grande of the Xingu River in the year 2000.

On May 15, 2001, the Federal Public Prosecutors Office (MPF) of the Brazilian state of Pará filed the first Civil Action Lawsuit against the hydroelectric dam of Belo Monte in response to a letter from the indigenous Juruna community that demonstrated the group's extreme concern with rumors that the federal government would be reinitiating the mega-project of damming the Xingu River.

Today, more than 13 years later, the peoples of the Xingu River are seeing their worst nightmares become a reality. The dark predictions of the first Civil Action Lawsuit of the Public Prosecutors are also materializing and to date MPF has filed twenty Civil Action Lawsuits against numerous violations of environmental legislation as well as the human rights of indigenous peoples, riverine people, fishermen, farmers and urban residents all impacted by the power plant. These rights are consecrated in the Federal Constitution of Brazil and in international agreements to which Brazil is a signatory.

The construction sites of Belo Monte continue expanding on what was once the territory of the Xingu peoples, becoming a national and international symbol of the public-private insanity of a developmentalism that destroys everything in its path in the name of so-called economic growth. So-called, because the supposed growth of 4 % to 5 % of the Gross National Product of Brazil, on which the Brazil 10-year Energy Plan was based in 2012, already failed to materialize in 2013 with a mere 2.5% growth, while 2014 is promising to end up even lower, according to the predictions of specialized economic agencies.

On December 10, when we celebrate International Human Rights Day, it is essential that the story of the ongoing crimes committed by the federal government and its private sector partners in Belo Monte be presented once again to our country and to the world.  In particular, it is essential for all to realize that most of these crimes were documented, analyzed, and denounced to the Courts of Justice that, omissive and lenient, have allowed these crimes to remain unpunished, to continue and to intensify over and over again.

When considering only the most recent Civil Action Lawsuits filed by Federal Public Prosecutors, between late 2012 and the present, we can observe a parade of absurdities committed by the consortium Norte Energia, S.A. (NESA, led by the Eletrobras Group), such as:

  • Non-compliance with 40% of the preliminary conditions stipulated by the project’s environmental license;
  • False information submitted by the company to the federal environmental agency IBAMA;
  • Error in the measurement of the urban area to be flooded in Altamira (Cota 100);
  • Lack of a cadaster of affected populations;
  • Violations of environmental permits and a renewed breach of its stipulated conditions;
  • Refusal of the consortium to fulfill its obligation to purchase lands for the Juruna indigenous people of the Boa Vista village, placing the very survival of the community at risk;
  • Lack of studies on impacts of Belo Monte on the Xikrin indigenous people that live along the Bacajá river (a tributary of the Xingu);
  • Irregularities in the resettlement of Altamira residents that will be affected by flooding, with modifications of the original housing designs without consent of the affected people, including non-conformity with the city legal code for construction; and many other issues. 

Several Civil Action Lawsuits have obtained favorable injunctions.  However, all of these were subsequently overruled without examination of their legal merits by resorting to the so-called ‘Security Suspension’ (Suspensão de Segurança), a legal instrument that originated within the military dictatorship and generously applied by presidents of TRF-1, a regional federal court.  Most of these lawsuits have been stalled, awaiting judgments at the first level of the judiciary system, while other remain to be judged within the TRF-1. 

In particular, one Civil Action Lawsuit regarding Belo Monte is awaiting judgment by the Federal Supreme Court (STF). The Federal Public Prosecutors’ Office (MPF) has filed this lawsuit in 2006, demanding that the State respect the Brazilian Constitution regarding the right of indigenous peoples to prior consultations regarding projects that affect their lands (Article 231 of the Constitution). The Movimento Xingu Vivo para Sempre – MXVPS (Xingu Forever Alive Movement) and its allies requested in November 2012 that the President of the Supreme Court hear the case, a claim that was reinforced by the Bishop of the Xingu Prelature, Erwin Kräutler, in April 2013 and submitted once again to the Supreme Court by the MXVPS and its partners on December 4th of this year.

Dozens of other legal actions to defend the rights of farmers, fishermen, riverine people and inhabitants of Altamira remain stalled in local courts, while stories of shattered lives, misery, and suffering accumulate. Far from sympathizing with this situation, the federal government sent the National Guard (Força Nacional de Segurança) to Belo Monte to repress the protests of affected peoples, as well as those of workers in dam construction, acting as private security guard of the NESA dam consortium.

A similar modus operandi has been adopted for the hydroelectric complexes of the Tapajós basin, where the construction of three large dams is planned in the Tapajós River and, along its tributaries, four dams on the Jamanxim River, five dams in the Teles Pires River, and 17 large dams on the Juruena River (in addition to over 80 small and medium hydroprojects – PCHs) that all directly affect indigenous lands, riverine territories and protected environmental areas.

The offenses of the federal government that characterize dam projects in the Tapajós basin go in the same direction as Belo Monte: political decisions without consulting indigenous peoples and without analysis of the cumulative impacts of dam cascades - in violation of Brazilian law and international standards, such as the Brazilian Federal Constitution and ILO Convention 169; pressuring of federal government institutions responsible for indigenous peoples (FUNAI), environmental protection (IBAMA) and archeological sites (IPHAN) as well as repression and attempts to coopt resistance movements, especially in the case of the Mundurukú and Kayabi indigenous peoples.

Already under construction, the Teles Pires hydropower plant, along the Teles Pires River, was the object of two Civil Action Lawsuits filed by Federal Public Prosecutors regarding serious human rights violations and shortfalls of the indigenous component of the project’s Environmental Impact Assessment. In September 2013, the Regional Federal Court TRF-1 ruled for the suspension of construction, but once again, at the request of the Federal Attorney General (AGU), the Suspensão de Segurança was applied, this time by the acting president of the Supreme Court (STF_, alleging "serious harm to the economic order”, allowing the resumption of construction in detriment of fundamental human rights.

Also along the Teles Pires River, the Brazilian electricity sector proposed the construction of the São Manoel hydroelectric dam that would be located just meters away from the border of the Kayabi indigenous territory. Although the licensing process was temporarily suspended in 2011, as a result of protests by the Mundurukú, Kayabi and Apiaká indigenous peoples, the project was resumed after intense pressure from the Energy Research Enterprise (linked to the federal Ministry of Mines and Energy) on judiciary system, IBAMA and FUNAI. According to the (incomplete) Indigenous Component of the project’s EIA, the impacts of the dam on indigenous peoples are so serious as to make it unviable. This has been the position of FUNAI until early November 2013. However, without resolving problems pointed out by its technical staff, FUNAI’s president changed position on November 27th, sending an ambiguous letter to IBAMA that facilitated the issuing of a first phase environmental license for the project (Licença Prévia) two days later, opening the way for the São Manoel dam project to be included in an energy sector auction, slated for December 13, 2013.

With regard to the Tapajós River, the federal government has staged military operations to enable the feasibility studies of the São Luiz do Tapajós and Jatoba hydroelectric dams. As in the case of Belo Monte, the federal government dispatched the National Guard (Força Nacional de Segurança) to the region, in order to control the resistance of the Mundurukú people who do not accept dams projects about which they were never consulted and which directly affect their territories and livelihoods.

Meanwhile, the federal government unconstitutionally reduced five environmental protection areas by more than 75,000 hectares by means of a Provisional Measure (Medida Provistória) to open the way for the dams and reservoirs of the São Luis do Tapajós and Jatoba hydroprojects. A lawsuit filed by the Federal Prosecutor General (Procurador Geral da União) regarding the unconstitutionality of this measure (Ação Direta de InconstitucionalidZde –AGU) awaits consideration by the Federal Supreme Court (STF) since February 2012.

Finally, it is worth noting that the construction of dams in the Amazon region has been benefitted by generous funding from the Brazilian National Bank for Economic and Social Development (BNDES) and other public banks, using Brazilian taxpayer funds, without a minimum of transparency regarding criteria for assessing socio-environmental and economic feasibility, as well as project risks, and in the absence of effective mechanisms to ensure respect for the rights of affected populations and other environmental and social responsibilities of dam-builders, counting on a lack of application of sanctions by IBAMA.


Because of all this, and because we consider it shameful and a provocation to be forced, before the eyes of the world, to endure attacks on human rights, human dignity and our democratic institutions, in a manner that relives the dark periods of the military dictatorship, we urge our country to join us and demand JUSTICE NOW for the victims of Belo Monte and the Tapajós basin projects. We demand:

  • That all levels of the Judiciary system fulfill their roles and judge, swiftly and objectively, the merits of all Civil Action Lawsuits relating to hydroelectric projects in the Amazon, eradicating and remedying violations of the Federal Constitution, environmental legislation and ILO Convention 169;
  • Specifically regarding Belo Monte, that the Supreme Court judge the merits of the Civil Action Lawsuit on the constitutional right of indigenous peoples to prior consultations by the Brazilian Congress;
  • The same principle should be applied to hydroelectric dam projects on the Tapajós, Teles Pires and Juruena rivers: that indigenous people be ensured the right to prior consultations and consent;
  • Regarding the planned São Manoel hydroelectric dam on the Teles Pires River: that the project be withdrawn from the A-5 energy auction of December 13, 2013 and that the licensing process be canceled until the judgment of the civil lawsuits filed by the Federal Public Ministry. And, in particular, that no initiative related to dam construction be carried out prior to consultations with the Kayabi, Mundurukú and Apiaká indigenous peoples;
  • Regarding the Teles Pires hydroelectric project: that the “Security Suspension” issued by the acting president of the Federal Supreme Court - that allowed the resumption of dam construction in violation of indigenous rights - be revised;
  • That the Supreme Court issues a judgment on the lawsuit filed by the Federal Prosecutor General regarding the unconstitutionality of reduction of protected areas in the Tapajós basin (ADI 4717);
  • That legislation on the “Security Suspension” (Suspensão de Segurança) be eradicated once and for all from Brazil's legal framework;
  • That a moratorium be decreed on the licensing and construction of dams in the Amazon region until studies are carried out on thecumulative impacts at the basin level of proposed dam cascades, and until free, prior and informed consultations and consent are carried out with indigenous peoples and other affected communities, in accordance with the Brazilian Constitution and ILO Convention 169.


Altamira and Santarém , December 10, 2013

Movimento Xingu Vivo para Sempre

Comitê Metropolitano Xingu Vivo
Conselho Indigenista Missionário
Terra de Direitos
Prelazia do Xingu
Instituto Humanitas

Setorial Nacional Ecossocialista do PSOL
Fórum Mudanças Climáticas e Justiça Social

Movimento de Mulheres Campo e Cidade Regional Transamazônica e Xingu

Movimento Negro Altamira

Mutirão pela Cidadania

Movimento Tapajós Vivo

Justiça Global

Sociedade Paraense de Defesa dos Direitos Humanos

Fase Amazônia

Comissão Paroquial de Meio Ambiente (CPMA)

Associação Ambientalista Corrente Verde
Fórum Mato-grossense de Meio Ambiente e Desenvolvimento – FORMAD

Associação Movimento Paulo Jackson – Ética, Justiça, Cidadania (Bahia)
Articulação de Mulheres Brasileiras – AMB

Fórum de Mulheres da Amazônia Paraense
Fórum Teles Pires

Supporting organizations:

Amazon Watch

International Rivers


More information: