Government License for Belo Monte Dam Provokes International Outcry

International Rivers and Amazon Watch
Thursday, March 11, 2010

Letter to President Lula Demands Cancellation of Massive Hydroelectric Project

Today, a coalition of 140 international organizations sent a letter to Brazil's President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to demand that he immediately halt plans to build Belo Monte Dam on the Amazon's Xingu River due to its immense social and environmental impacts, and instead consider alternatives. The letter was sent to President Lula following an emergency meeting convened by the Movimento Xingu Vivo Para Sempre (The Xingu Alive Forever Movement) that brought together dozens of Brazilian and international organizations opposed to the dam in Altamira, a city that will be partially flooded by the project.

Slated to be the world's third largest hydroelectric project, Belo Monte has been mired in controversy for over 20 years. The mega-project would divert the flow of the Xingu River and devastate an extensive area of the Amazon rainforest, threatening the survival of indigenous peoples.

The letter to President Lula was signed by a group of prominent environmental and human rights organizations, including Greenpeace, Amnesty International, and 40 indigenous groups from across the U.S., Europe, Asia, and Africa. Among its arguments, the letter encourages Lula to embrace alternatives to mega-dams in the Amazon, refuting the government's claim that Belo Monte will provide clean and renewable energy, and showing how Belo Monte would actually exacerbate climate change. In fact, while Belo Monte is said to provide clean energy, the dam will emit large quantities of methane, a greenhouse gas that is 25 times more potent per ton than C02. Studies have shown that by investing in energy efficiency, Brazil could cut demand for electricity by 40% by 2020 and save $19 billion in the process. The amount of energy saved would be equivalent to 14 Belo Monte dams. 

"International NGOs and indigenous groups are outraged at the Brazilian government's attempts to ram through this project in violation of Brazilian law and the rights of indigenous peoples. Local communities are strongly opposed and committed to stopping this project and international groups are vowing to support them," said Christian Poirier, Brazil Program Coordinator for Amazon Watch.

In July of 2009, President Lula met with representatives of Brazilian civil society and leaders of Indigenous communities from the Xingu River basin in Brasilia, promising them renewed dialogue on the looming mega-project and assuring them that "Belo Monte will not be shoved down anyone's throat".

"We understood this to mean that Belo Monte would only be approved once affected communities had been adequately consulted about the project, understood its implications, and consented to its construction," the letter states. "Yet less than a year later, your government has given the green light to the project, despite the outrage of local communities as well as glaring concerns and warnings by Brazilian experts."

Chief among those concerns is Brazil's failure to secure the free, prior and informed consent of affected indigenous communities, in violation of international law.

Belo Monte would inundate 500 square km of land and divert most of the river's flow through artificial canals, drying out a 100-km stretch of the Xingu River's "Big Bend", leaving Indigenous and traditional communities without water, fish, or a means of river transport. At least 20,000 people would be forced from their homes in Altamira and the Xingu's Big Bend.

Indigenous leaders, Brazilian and international civil society groups are stepping up their opposition to Belo Monte. Among other actions, legal challenges to the provisional license are being prepared, advocacy efforts have spread to audiences worldwide, and the region's indigenous peoples are mobilizing a major response to the government's plans to dam a river they hold sacred.

"Belo Monte will only bring death to the Xingu, its inhabitants, and its immense intact biodiversity," said Antonia Melo of the Movimento Xingu Vivo. "We are glad that the international community has joined us in our fight to save this life-giving river."


Amazon Watch is a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization that works to protect the rainforest and advance the rights of indigenous peoples in the Amazon Basin. We partner with indigenous and environmental organizations in campaigns for human rights, corporate accountability and the preservation of the Amazon's ecological systems.

International Rivers is an environmental and human rights organization with staff in four continents. For over two decades, Internationatl Rivers has been at the heart of the global struggle to protect rivers and the rights of communities that depend on them.

Media contacts: 

Christian Poirier, Amazon Watch,, +55 11 8565 5343
Aviva Imhof, International Rivers,, + 55 11 8460 9513