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Brazil: Belo Monte Halted, but for How Long?

Categories: Latin America, Brazil, Citizen Media, Development, Digital Activism, Environment, Ethnicity & Race

This article is part of our special coverage Belo Monte Dossier [1] [pt].

When it seemed that all was already lost, the movements opposing the Belo Monte hydroelectric power plant were surprised by an order suspending the works [2], which were being carried out on the Xingu River in the state of Pará. News of the decision, which was made on the night of the 13th of August, spread like a wave of hope for the activists, who inundated social media with exuberant reactions.

The decision to halt the power plant's construction came from the Federal Regional Court of the 1st Region (TRF1) with the vote from Appeals Court Judge Souza Prudente, who highlighted illegalities in the power plant's licencing process (which have been discussed previously [3]).

In 2011 Judge Carlos Castro Martins also announced the suspension of the power plant's construction. Photo of Karen Hoffmann in Altamira, Brazil (27/09/2011), copyright Demotix. [4]

In 2011 Judge Carlos Castro Martins also announced the suspension of the power plant's construction. Photo of Karen Hoffmann in Altamira, Brazil (27/09/2011), copyright Demotix.

The first mistake was made in the Supreme Federal Court, which approved the case based on the executive's preliminary decision, and the other was at the National Congress, which approved the works before the technical studies had been completed. According to the appeals court judge, in addition to the need to reconsider these two plant evaluation processes, the indigenous populations must be consulted. Only with the communities’ authorisation can the works be carried out.

Activist Eliane Carmanim Lima was one of the first to write about the work stoppage order on Facebook. Sharing her “happiness at seeing Belo Monte halted”, she also made reference to a citizen action which she wrote in 2011 to contest the power plant, claiming that it violated convention 169 of the International Labour Organization (ILO) on consulting indigenous peoples. She stated [5] [pt]:

No ano passado encabecei uma Ação Popular, processo na justiça, que eu mesma escrevi com revisão de 2 advogados. Priorizei a questão indígena e até comentei sobre a OIT. Pela notícia abaixo os argumentos da ação foram aceitos. Aqui na 4ª região disseram que não existia competência o que era questionável, porque era uma Ação Popular (não vou me me aprofundar aqui), etc. Mas vejam que nossos termos estavam corretos!

Last year I led a citizen action suit, which I wrote myself and was revised by two lawyers. I prioritised the indigenous issue and even commented on the ILO. From the news below, the suit's arguments have been accepted. Here in the 4th region they said that the contention did not have competence because it was a citizen action (I will not go into it here), etc. But they saw that our premise was right!

In her blog on the 14th of August, 2012, researcher Telma Monteiro wrote about the work stoppages [6] [pt] at the Belo Monte hydroelectric power plant on the Xingu River, and the Teles Pires plant on the river of the same name. She wrote:

Nos dois casos, decisões contemplaram pedidos do MPF [Ministério Público Federal] para suspender projetos realizados sem a oitiva dos povos afetados, prevista na Constituição e na Convenção 169.
Em julgamento ontem (13/08), os desembargadores da 5ª Turma do Tribunal aceitaram por unanimidade o recurso do MPF e ordenaram a paralisação das obras da usina de Belo Monte. Uma semana antes, a mesma turma havia ordenado a paralisação das obras da hidrelétrica Teles Pires.

In both cases, the decisions were based on orders from the MPF [Federal Public Prosecutor's Office] to suspend projects carried out without hearing from the people affected, as provided for in the Constitution and in Convention 196.
In yesterday's judgement (13/08), the appeals court judges of the 5th Panel of the Court unanimously accepted the MPF's appeal and ordered the work stoppage at the Belo Monte power plant. One week earlier, the same panel ordered the work stoppage at the Teles Pires hydroelectric plant.

In 2010, Appeals Court Judge Souza Prudente had already questioned the plant, according to Telma Monteiro in her blog [7] [pt]. She quoted his speech:

Em dado momento Souza Prudente se supera ao relembrar o princípio da precaução ratificado pelo Brasil e que está sendo violentado no caso de Belo Monte: “A Hidrelétrica de Belo Monte, na dimensão em que fora descrita no estudo prévio de impacto ambiental inconcluso é uma ameaça à preservação do maior bioma do planeta, o bioma amazônico. E o interesse difuso não é só dos brasileiros, mas de todos os habitantes da terra e do cosmos, se é que além da terra existem extraterrestres que terão também interesse em preservar a Amazônia.”

At that time Souza Prudente recalled the precautionary principle ratified by Brazil and which is being violated in the Belo Monte case: “The Belo Monte Hydroelectric Plant, to the extent that it has been described in the incomplete preliminary environmental impact study, is a threat to the preservation of the planet's largest biome, the Amazone biome. And this is not just of widespread interest to Brazilians, but to all inhabitants on Earth and in the cosmos, if beyond Earth there are extra-terrestrials who are also interested in preserving the Amazon.”
Protest in Brasília, February 2011. Photo from International Rivers on Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0). [8]

NO to Belo Monte Dams in Xingu. Protest in Brasília, February 2011. Photo from International Rivers on Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

A battle has been won…

On Twitter, the hashtag #BeloMonte [9] has been used to celebrate what internet user Giselle Corteza (@GiCortez [10]) considers to be “the greatest news of all time” [pt – all links].

Actor Sergio Marone, coordinator of the Movimento Gota d'água [11] [pt], which debates the country's energy planning, also celebrated the decision. He said:

@SergioMarone [12]: Notícia boa a gente RT!! // RT @pluraleemsite [13] TRF1 determina paralisação das obras de #BeloMonte [9]http://www.plurale.com.br/noticias-ler… [14]@xinguvivo [15]

@SergioMarone [12]: Good news guys!! // RT @pluraleemsite [13] TRF1 halted construction at #BeloMonte [9]http://www.plurale.com.br/noticias-ler… [14] @xinguvivo [15] [pt – all links].

Lívia Ferreira noted the activists’ persistence. She wrote:

@liviasulife [16]: Quem disse que não dá? Com persistência dá. PARAMOS BELO MONTE!!!!!!!! \o/

@liviasulife [16] [pt]: Who said it wouldn't work? With persistence, it did. WE STOPPED BELO MONTE!!!!!!!! \o/

Internet user Ananda Andrade still seemed sceptical, but shared the excitement. She stated:

@anandasrandrade [17]: Obras de Belo Monte foram paradas em virtude da necessidade de escutar as pop. Tradicionais afetadas. Se for verdade… Parabéns, sociedade!

@anandasrandrade [17] [pt]: The Belo Monte works have been stopped because of the need to listen to the traditional populations affected. If this is true… Congratulations, society!

Adroaldo Portal, secretary of the Democratic Labour Party (PDT), complained about the decision and the repeated questioning of the plant project:

Image from Paulo Fradinho, shared more than six thousand times on Facebook. Used with permission. [18]

Image from Paulo Fradinho, shared more than six thousand times on Facebook. Used with permission.

@AdroaldoPortal [19]: Justiça manda paralisar trabalhos na usina de Belo Monte, maior obra em andamento no país. Pela TROCENTÉSIMA vez, diga se de passagem.

@AdroaldoPortal [19] [pt]: Court orders work to halt at the Belo Monte power plant, the largest works being carried out in the country. For the MILLIONTH time, by the way.

Pedro Mezzonato celebrated, but sceptically. He wrote:

@PedroMezzonato [20]: Justiça determina suspensão das obras da usina de Belo Monte [21]BELO MONTE PAROU! Vamos ver até quando..

@PedroMezzonato [20]: Court has suspended work at the Belo Monte [21] power plant. BELO MONTE HAS BEEN STOPPED! Let's see for how long..[pt – all links]

…but the war is not over yet.

On the night of the 14th of August, Eliane Carmanim Lima appeared on Facebook [22] [pt] once again to call for new mobilisation in support of the TRF1 decision, fearing attempts to question the decision:

Peço a todos que se mobilizaram contra Belo Monte para se manifestarem publicamente em passeatas, porque logo devem recorrer da sentença e temos que nos preparar para o Supremo. Opinião Pública conta !

I ask everyone mobilised against Belo Monte to publicly express this in demonstrations, because soon they are going to appeal the decision and we need to get ready for the Supreme Court. Public opinion counts!

A day of national mobilisation [23] [pt] has been scheduled for Sunday the 19th for the whole country. In Belém, the capital of Pará state, protesters have organised an action for Friday in support of the Federal Public Prosecutor's Office of Pará, which has taken several actions against the power plant.

Telma Monteiro shared the news [24] [pt] that the works at Teles Pires have been newly authorised by the TRF1 president, putting them at loggerheads. She also shared the declaration [25] [pt] from Appeals Court Judge Souza Prudente on the risk of a new judgement on the case:

“Espero que os ministros do STF, caso vá para lá, validem a decisão do TRF-1, mas que a justiça seja eterna enquanto dure”. Desembargador Souza Prudente, sobre a decisão que parou Belo Monte.

“I hope that the STF [Supreme Federal Court] ministers, if it goes there, uphold the TRF-1 decision, but that justice is eternal for as long as it lasts.” Appeals Court Judge Souza Prudente on the decision that stopped Belo Monte.

This article is part of our special courage Belo Monte Dossier [1] [pt].