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Construction of controversial Belo Monte dam stopped

Brazil’s Supreme Court overruled the Federal Appeals Court’s decision on August 28, 2012. Construction resumed the same day.

Construction site of the Belo Monte Dam and hydropower project, near Altamira. Photo by © Greenpeace/Marizilda Cruppe.
Construction site of the Belo Monte Dam and hydropower project, near Altamira. Photo by © Greenpeace/Marizilda Cruppe.

Belo Monte dam developer Norte Energia, S.A. has stopped all work on the Belo Monte dam after receiving formal notification of the decision last week by the Brazilian Federal Appeals Court to suspend the project, reports International Rivers. Norte Energia said it would take “all available measures to reverse the decision.”

The Federal Appeals Court ruled that Belo Monte cannot proceed without the consent of indigenous communities that will be impacted by the dam, which will redirect 80 percent of the flow of the Xingu river, a tributary of the Amazon river. The court said that Congress authorized the dam without prior consultations or a proper environmental impact study. To allow the project to proceed as is “would transform the Constitution into a dead letter, an act of fantasy,” according to federal Judge Antônio Souza Prudente, who authored the decision. “We can’t admit a congressional initiative within a democratic system of government that is an act of dictatorship, an authoritarian act that violates the rights of indigenous peoples.”

International Rivers, an NGO that is part of the campaign against Belo Monte, said the court decision means that all of the environmental and installation licenses awarded to Norte Energia by Brazil’s environmental agency IBAMA for Belo Monte are now invalid. The group said indigenous communities may now seek damages from Norte Energia for work the construction giant has already done.

“We are going to consult our legal advisors in order to guarantee payment of reparations for the damages already faced by the people affected by Belo Monte,” said Antonia Melo, coordinator of the Xingu Forever Alive Movement. “We understand that as the project’s licenses are now invalid and that Norte Energia must reverse all of its actions that have caused impacts on the river, people and the environment. This is what we demand. The courts have finally served justice and stopped Belo Monte. Now, we want anything that reminds us of this genocidal project to disappear from our lives for good.”

Belo Monte has seen strong opposition from civil society. The dam is particularly controversial because it will flood tens of thousands of hectares of forest and displace more than 15,000 people, including indigenous communities dependent on the Xingu river. The project will further disrupt migration fish patterns and generate substantial methane emissions, according to an independent assessment by Philip Fearnside, a prominent Brazilian scientist. Furthermore, due to water fluctuations during the dry season, the dam won’t be commercially viable unless two further dams are built upstream to provide water catchments.

Belo Monte is part of Brazil’s push to substantially expand the number of dams in the Amazon basin. Some 30 dams are slated for completion by 2020 in the region. Scientists warn that a surge in dams could significantly disrupt the ecological connectivity of the Amazon River to the Andes with substantial impacts for fish populations, nutrient cycling, and the health of Earth’s largest rainforest.

Construction site of the Belo Monte Dam and hydropower project, near Altamira. Photo by © Greenpeace/Marizilda Cruppe.
Photo by © Greenpeace/Marizilda Cruppe.

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