Brazilian court suspends license for Belo Monte hydroelectric dam
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Brazilian court suspends license for Belo Monte hydroelectric dam

A Brazilian court has suspended the operating license for the controversial Belo Monte hydroelectric dam on the Xingu River in the Amazon.

According to a report by Reuters, Norte Energia – the company constructing the dam – had planned to start generating energy in the next few weeks when a court in the state of Pará ordered the suspension.

The court has suspended the license until the government and the company comply with a previous condition requiring the reorganization of the regional operations of Funai – a national agency established in 1967 to protect the rights of indigenous Brazilians.  

The judge, Maria Carolina Valente do Carmo, has said that the suspension will not be lifted until the condition has been met.

Mass closures

After failing to restructure Funai, despite being ordered to do so by a judge in 2014, the government and Norte Energia were also issued with a fine of 900,000 Brazilian real (about $223,228) for non-compliance.

Reuters reported that there are now only 23 Funai staff in the region, compared to 60 in 2010, and that all Funai stations in indigenous communities near the project site have been closed.

Since the mid-1970s, there have been plans to carry out dam developed on the Xingu River. Over the years, several dam proposals, faced with strong resistance from indigenous groups supported by international organizations, have been dropped.

However, despite ongoing resistance and international outcry, plans to construct Belo Monte – which will have an installed capacity of 11,233 megawatts and is set to be the third largest dam in the world – have forged ahead.   

In 2010, Norte Energia was granted a preliminary license to construct the massive dam complex, which includes three dams, a series of canals and several dykes.

The project has been steeped in controversy since its inception. It is estimated that up to 20,000 will be displaced from their homes to make way for the project, and indigenous groups and environmental organizations say the dam will devastate the environment, impacting local communities’ ability to fish and hunt.  

Human rights violations

In 2011, civil society organizations filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), and in the same year, the Commission granted precautionary measures for the members of the indigenous communities of the Xingu River Basin. However, last month (December 2015) , the IACHR took the decision to open the case against the Brazilian government.

According to a press statement released by the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA), the IACHR, after reviewing the petition for four years, has established that the “petition contains sufficient grounds to open the case”.

The government will now be required to respond to claims of human rights violations which have occurred in relation to the Belo Monte dam project.

 “We hope and believe that now is the time for Brazil to respond comprehensively to our claims about: the absence of consultation and free, prior and informed consent of affected indigenous communities; the lack of participation and adequate assessment of environmental impact; and the forced displacement and violations of the rights to life, health, integrity and justice of indigenous peoples, riverine communities, and residents of the city of Altamira,”

María José Veramendi Villa, senior attorney for the Human Rights and Environment Program at AIDA, said.

See also:

Belo Monte: Is oppression the price of clean energy?