Belo Monte Dam Construction Suspended Again

International Rivers and Amazon Watch
Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Last week the Federal Regional Court of the 1st Region (TRF-1) accepted a request made by public prosecutors of the Federal Public Ministry (MPF) and suspended the installation license (LI- Licença de Instalação) which had authorized the start of construction sites of the Belo Monte Hydroelelctric Dam in 2011.

The Court also ruled that BNDES (Brazilian National Development Bank) should not transfer further resources to Norte Energia, the company responsible for construction of the dam complex, before the 40 conditions of the preliminary license (LP-Licença Prévia) are met. The ruling was made by appeals court Judge Souza Prudente and will need to be confirmed by collegial decision of the court.

The 40 conditions of the preliminary license address the actions established by Brazil’s Environmental Agency (IBAMA) so that the nearby cities of the region where Belo Monte is being built will be prepared to face the impacts of construction. To initiate them, Norte Energia and the government would have to fulfill a number of conditions, several of them complex, such as the removal of non-indigenous occupants from the indigenous lands in the region, and the installation of an infrastructure for health, education and security in the cities which would be receiving the approximately 100,000 migrants anticipated in the impact studies for the construction.

In January of 2011 IBAMA granted a partial installation license (LI-Licença de Instalação) that permitted the start of construction solely for the construction sites. The court action by the MPF was filed against this partial installation license, because it had been given without consideration of the constraints issued by IBAMA, considered indispensable prior to the start of any construction having been undertaken.

"The partial installation license, something nonexistent in the Brazilian law, permitted Norte Energia to avoid obligations of the preliminary license without delaying construction of the dam," said Biviany Rojas, a lawyer for ISA.

"This lawsuit is proof that Belo Monte is not only unviable, but also illegal,” said Antonia Melo, coordinator for Movimento Xingu Vivo para Sempre. “This decision demonstrates that social movements have been telling the truth all along. It also serves to reinforce our commitment to this fight against a predatory development model that violates environmental law and human rights. We reaffirm that we will keep up the fight for justice.”

IBAMA granted the license without fulfilling the anticipatory measures

Despite having verified that the conditions had not been met, the IBAMA decided to authorize the start of construction and reissue the goals and deadlines for the conditions. Shortly thereafter in June of 2011, the environmental agency granted an installation license for the rest of the construction work, again without compliance with the anticipatory measures. This second installation license replaced the partial installationlicense, in such a way that the decision of the TRF-1 addresses not only the construction of the sites, but the entire construction project.

The preliminary license, granted in February of 2010, was also signed by the President of IBAMA, despite having an opinion by his technical staff, issued two days earlier, which stated that there were "elements insufficient to attest to the environmental viability of the enterprise."

The decision of Souza Prudente could still be taken by the government and by Norte Energia to the President of the Superior Court, who could suspend the decision. "The Superior Court could order resumption of construction using political and economic criteria, independently of having violated environmental laws," says Leonardo Amorim, ISA's lawyer. "The reason for this is because the nation did not strike down a law that has its origins in the dictatorship, which permits the government to ignore judicial decisions until the final judgment of the actions against it. Meanwhile, the work is concluded and hence considered a fait accompli."

The last time that the Court ordered a halt of the plant construction was in August of 2012 when the TRF-1 issued the opinion that the Brazilian government had not attended to the right of the indigenous peoples affected to be consulted, but the decision was suspended by the then Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Minister Ayres Britto, and is still awaiting judgment.

"The fragility of IBAMA in the enforcement of the conditions and the delay in our obtaining definitive court decisions only exacerbates the social situation, making it increasingly serious with each day that goes by," said Federal Public Prosecutor in the State of Pará (MPF/PA) Ubiratan Cazetta. 

The Belo Monte hydroelectric plant has received R$3.2 billion in financing for investment in socio-environmental projects, the most ever approved by the BNDES for socio-environmental initiatives.

"BNDES only approved the loan after the installation license for construction,” said ISA executive secretary André Villas-Boas. “Norte Energia, disobeying the preconditions established by the IBAMA, did not anticipate for investments for meeting the conditions that were supposed to precede the start of construction. It did so only after the installation license and when the loan from the BNDES had been secured. The IBAMA relented to this defiance in its last official opinion, which now results in an enormous gap between the pace of work and the socio-environmental investments considered basic for minimizing the impacts in the region." 

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