Brazil: Belo Monte Dam Case Comes to Court

This post is part of our special coverage Forest Focus: Amazon.
[All links lead to Portuguese language pages except when otherwise noted]

The Brazilian justice system has provided new fuel to the protests against the Belo Monte hydroelectric power plant, after its construction begun in June 2011 [en]. A lawsuit filed in 2006 by the Federal Public Ministry of the state of Pará (MPF/PA) was brought to court on October 17 at the Federal Regional Court of the 1st Region, in capital Brasília.

The lawsuit questions Act 788/2005 by the National Congress, which authorized the construction of the dam without previously consulting the indigenous peoples of the municipality of Altamira and neighboring areas. Consultation for this kind of construction is a constitutional right expressed in Article 231.

This video produced by Movement Xingu Vivo Sempre with the indigenous peoples of the Xingu river shows their dissatisfaction with the Belo Monte project and their demand for the protection of their lifestyles [pt]:

MPF/PA has published a website ‘Belo Monte – problems with the project and the MPF’s actions‘, on which one may follow news articles, lawsuits and evaluations concerning the dam. One of the links is to the blog Belo Monte de Violências [word play with Belo Monte which translates to ‘Beautiful Mountain of Violence’], edited by MPF/PA prosecutor Felício Pontes Jr.

The blog has trigged controversy; on the page, Pontes Jr published the judicial background of the case and articles he wrote to criticize the project and public civil actions. On top of that, he aggregated the link to a petition against the dam, a banner of Movimento Xingu Vivo Sempre and the video ‘Defending the Rivers of the Amazon‘, which exposes the project’s impact.

In early September, Norte Energia S.A. (NESA), the company responsible for the construction of the dam, filed a lawsuit against Pontes Jr, requesting him to be kept away from the case and the link to his blog to be removed from MPF/PA’s website.

Lawsuits pending

Minister of Mines and Energy, Edson Lobão, and President Dilma Rousseff make a toast as the forest destroyed by Belo Monte suffers. Cartoon by Ju Borges (@peledaterra), of blog Pele da Terra, used with permission.

Minister of Mines and Energy, Edson Lobão, and President Dilma Rousseff make a toast as the forest destroyed by Belo Monte suffers. Cartoon by Ju Borges (@peledaterra), of blog Pele da Terra, used with permission.

There are several lawsuits currently filed in the justice system requesting the interruption of the power plant’s construction. One of these was filed by Altamira City Hall, together with the MPF/PA. At first, the Mayor of Altamira supported the project, but now she argues the conditions of the agreements have not been respected and the city has faced several problems since the dam was approved.

In late September, the Federal Public Ministry of Pará declared on its Twitter profile:

@MPF_PA: Íntegra do ofício da prefeitura de Altamira, da câmara e de mais de 40 associações pedindo suspensão de Belo Monte:

@MPF_PA: Complete document issued by Altamira City Hall, Chamber and additional 40 associations requesting suspension of Belo Monte:

The City Hall argues:

Os estudos preliminares ao empreendimento criaram um sonho de uma Altamira de primeiro mundo, com uma infraestrutura urbana e saneamento nunca antes imaginada por nossa sociedade. Não pode agora a nossa população ver transformado este sonho em pesadelo, e passar a acreditar que essa obra só veio para agredir o meio ambiente e trazer miséria para a já sofrida população de Altamira.

Preliminary studies on the [Belo Monte] endeavour fostered the dream of a first world-like Altamira, with urban infrastructure and sanitation never before conceived in our society. Our population will not watch this dream become a nightmare and have begun to believe this project came only to attack the environment and bring misery to the already suffering population of Altamira.

Teachers, students and the church of the neighboring city of Vitória do Xingu are also dissatisfied with the disrespect of condictions to license the project and have demanded a public audience to discuss this, according to the Xingu Vivo website.

The 12th Public Civil Action against Belo Monte comes from local farmers, as Twitter user Verena Glass declared on October 4:

@VerenaGlass: 12a Ação Civil Publica Belo Monte: MPF quer obrigar NESA a respeitar direitos dos agricultores atingidos

@VerenaGlass: 12th Public Civil Action Belo Monte: MPF wants to oblige NESA of respecting the rights of farmers affected

The most effective legal action against Belo Monte was the prelminary injuction of September 27, which interrupted the works on the Xingu river. The action came from the Altamira Association of Breeders and Exporters of Ornamental Fish (Acepoat). As the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (Ibama) had previously authorized the Acepoat to perform fishing on the Xingu river, the license for the dam is thus incompatible, as it limits access to the river and will alter the region’s fauna.

Belo Monte, human rights and indigenous people

The dam’s initial impact has mainly been felt among the indigenous of the Xingu region; according to Xingu Vivo, malaria and child mortality have increased among them, as this population receives a poor service. Illegal deforestation has also  been more frequent.

For all these reasons, journalist and blogger Leonardo Sakamoto has said Belo Monte is the “stone on the speech” of President Dilma Rousseff, regarding her historical speech on the opening of the United Nations General Assembly, in late September (reported [en] by Global Voices). Sakamoto stresses the government's need to give an answer to the appeal issued in early April by the Interamerican Commission of Human Rights concerning the protection of indigenous communities, and other groups.

On September 30, Kayopó “Cacique” Raoni, a resident of the Xingu river, was at the UN headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, where he declared in a video that he “will never accept Belo Monte”. The video has been translated into Portuguese in audio, and has subtitles in English:

The last great protest against the power plant took place in August and reached international proportions [en].  The movement Xingu Vivo Sempre, one of the most active voices against Belo Monte, made an incitement via Twitter on October 11, linking the protest against the plant to the global protest of October 15.

In Brazil, the protest for real democracy took place in many cities. The Twitter profile @xinguvivo declared:

Porque Belo Monte é um projeto que vai na contramão do desenvolvimento que respeita a vida.#reasons15o

Because Belo Monte is a project that goes against the tide of a development respectful to life. #reasons15o (reasons for October 15)

Youtube user rodrigoguim1 published a video [pt] of the “Acampada Indígena” (Indigenous Camp) of October 15, in São Paulo:

A new campaign aims at pressuring the Federal Regional Court (TRF1) to bring to trial the 12 lawsuits against Belo Monte. The campaign’s website ‘TRF1, the responsability to prevent crimes in the Xingu is yours!’ points out email addresses of the three judges who are analyzing the MPF/PA's case. The trial has been postponed, and remains to be rescheduled; it will be resumed at the most optimistic analysis [pt], after a period of 15 days.

This post is part of our special coverage Forest Focus: Amazon.


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