On Carnaval, Belo Monte Installation Begins

Zachary Hurwitz
Norte Energia Begins Initial Installation of Belo Monte without Full License
Norte Energia Begins Initial Installation of Belo Monte without Full License

On February 25th, a judge suspended the partial installation license for Belo Monte Dam.   On Thursday March 3rd, a regional judge overturned the suspension in a politically questionable ruling.  And today, Norte Energia is celebrating Carnaval on the Xingu by beginning project installation, ignoring social and environmental prerequisites.  According to the government, it's a matter of national security; and according to a letter from Brazilian bank BNDES, loan conditions have been violated.  Happy Carnaval.

Thanks to a ruling late last week overturning the dam's suspension and allowing them to go ahead with installation without having met 40 social and environmental prerequisites, Norte Energia (NESA) is dancing a samba on the Xingu River like a drunken tourist.  In a blog, the consortium stated today that installation activities have begun, even saying that installation is necessary in order to house the workers that will implement the environmental prerequisites of the dam.

"Engineer José Biagioni, of Norte Energia, responsible for the environmental prerequisites of the Belo Monte Dam, spoke to the press and explained that this phase of the project refers only to the activities authorized by the [partial] Installation License granted by IBAMA.  In other words: roadway improvement for the construction of easement areas and camps to house workers who will participate in diverse activities, including the regional basic health project and other interventions outlined by the socioenvironmental conditionalities that involve 11 municipalities."

What a lie.  The majority of the environmental prerequisites tied to the dam's preliminary license have to do with the improvement of health, education, and planning indicators in urban areas.  The company does not need to improve roads or build a worker camp close to the dam construction site so that they can improve urban infrastructure in Altamira.  Norte Energia's public relations staff need practice.

More importantly, the beginning of installation by NESA violates a loan condition issued by Brazilian National Development Bank BNDES.  According to a letter we received in February from BNDES answering questions about the approval of a R$1 billion reais bridge loan to NESA, "any intervention in the construction site by NESA without it first obtaining a complete installation license would trigger its cancellation."  At the time, we applauded BNDES for stating it would uphold the law by not releasing any funds to Norte Energia if it started installation before receiving the full license. Now, it remains to be seen whether BNDES will honor its commitment, given that NESA has begun installation without a full installation license. 

In last Thursday's ruling, the regional judge took advantage of a legal device normally reserved for national security emergencies.

As we reported in our press release over the weekend:

"Regional judge Menezes used a legal artifice ("suspensão de segurança") that dates to the military dictatorship of the 1970s, allowing for previous decisions to be overturned without considering the merits of the case, based on arguments of supposed threats to national security.  According to Menezes, there is no need for full compliance with conditionalities of a first phase environmental license for "initial installations" of Belo Monte to begin."
Dilma Dances with Street Cleaners at Carnaval During her Presidential Campaign
Dilma Dances with Street Cleaners at Carnaval During her Presidential Campaign

What is the national security emergency that justifies illegal maneuvers in the Brazilian judiciary, violations of human rights, and urgent construction of the Belo Monte Dam? The Brazilian economy is humming along at 7% growth -- what is the big rush? Who is going to lose money if the dam is not built? BNDES is positioned to spend R$25 billion reais on Belo Monte, while even the IMF has warned Brazil needs to slow down investment.  Why is the government trampling on human rights and violating the independence of the judiciary in order to start construction?

Whatever the reasons, NESA is now dancing a samba do pé on the Xingu River.  Let's be realistic: the consortium chose to begin installation during Carnaval, a federal holiday, knowing that families of the Xingu would be at home or in the streets celebrating, with their minds off of Belo Monte.

While the country celebrates Carnaval, let's also mark another notch in the record of illegal maneuvers over the 25-year history of the Belo Monte Dam.  This is another low-down dirty-handed tactic by the Brazilian government, for a low-down dirty hydro project.  I see no reason to celebrate.