Judge Suspends Dam in the Amazon

Friday, March 30, 2012

Saves Falls Sacred to Indigenous Peoples

Teles Pires construction site
Teles Pires construction site

A federal judge in Brazil has suspended the construction license of the Teles Pires hydroelectric dam in the Brazilian Amazon, citing violations of the rights of the Kayabi, Apiaká and Mundurucu indigenous peoples whose livelihoods are seriously threatened by the project.

The dam with an estimated installed capacity of 1,820 MW has been under construction since August 2011 on the Teles Pires River, a major tributary of the Tapajós River in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon. The dam is one of six large hydroprojects planned for the Teles Pires River, bordering the states of Mato Grosso and Pará. It is also currently applying for carbon credits from the UNFCCC.

In her decision, Judge Célia Regina Ody Bernardes concluded that prior to green-lighting dam construction, the federal environmental agency (IBAMA) failed to consult with affected indigenous communities, despite serious threats to their "socioeconomic and cultural well-being," constituting a violation of the Brazilian Constitution and ILO Convention 169, which Brazil signed in 2004.

Bridge construction at Teles Pires dam site in Mato Grosso
Bridge construction at Teles Pires dam site in Mato Grosso
Disclosure, January 2012

The decision to suspend dam construction was based on a lawsuit filed earlier this month that argued the existence of "imminent and irreversible damage to the quality of life and cultural heritage of indigenous peoples of the region," including flooding of a series of rapids on the Teles Pires River, known as Sete Quedas. According to indigenous leaders, "The rapids of Sete Quedas are the spawning grounds of fish that are very important to us, such as the pintado, pacuú, pirarara and matrinxã. In addition, Sete Quedas is a sacred place for us, where the Mãe dos Peixes ("Mother of Fish") and other spirits of our ancestors live – a place that should not be messed with."

Civil society groups and leaders of the Kayabi community welcomed the news of the the suspension of dam construction, but warned against a possible overturning of Judge Bernardes' restraining order. They are now calling on the Dilma government to respect the country's constitution and rule of law.