Brazil Judge Suspends Construction of Massive Amazon Dam

Latin American Herald Tribune
Sunday, February 27, 2011

RIO DE JANEIRO – A Brazilian judge ordered the immediate suspension of the license authorizing work to begin on the massive Belo Monte hydroelectric dam in the Amazon jungle.

Construction of the 11,233 MW dam, which will be the third largest in the world if completed, has sparked harsh criticism from environmentalists, peasants and Indians, who fear that it will degrade the Xingu River, one of the Amazon’s main tributaries.

Friday’s ruling also bans the transferral of funds to the construction companies involved by the state-run BNDES development bank, which is to provide 80 percent of the financing, the court in the northern state of Para, the site of the dam, said in a statement.

Judge Ronald Desterro ruled that the Brazilian Environment and Natural Resources Institute, or Ibama, granted the initial license on Jan. 26 without ensuring that 29 conditions had been met and without the Brazilian state-owned electricity distributor Companhia Hidro Eletrica do Sao Francisco having provided information on another 33 questions which it was required to answer.

Among the conditions that have not been met are measures to guarantee the navigability of the rivers in the region, support programs for the affected Indian populations and plans for restoring areas that become deteriorated.

“At every stage of the concession of licenses, the government shows a lack of respect for the constitution and environmental laws, and does so with the help of Ibama, which has become a technical body that caves in to political pressure,” said prosecutor Felicio Pontes, who sued to block the project.

Prosecutors said that not only have the regulations for granting environmental licenses not been complied with, but also the numbers presented in the project study have been manipulated, which in his judgment makes it non-viable.

Some 372 species of fish live in the Xingu, which would be in danger of extinction if the dam is built, the document says.

The Belo Monte project dates back to 1979 and was restarted by former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s administration, which put it up for auction in April last year.

Besides being a possible threat to the environment, it will flood an area of 506 sq. kilometers (195 sq. miles) of jungle and displace close to 50,000 Indians and peasants.

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