Belo Monte Dam may begin operations despite noncompliance
The dam has failed to comply with conditions for the protection of the health, integrity and way of life of affected communities. Organizations reiterate the validity of the precautionary measures granted by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in favor of the indigenous communities of the Xingú River basin, whose situation of risk has worsened.
Altamira, Brazil & Washington, DC – The Belo Monte dam is applying for authorization to begin operations, with construction reported at 70 percent complete. This authorization may happen despite the fact that the project has failed to comply with conditions necessary to protect the health, integrity and way of life of affected communities, including the indigenous peoples of the Xingú river basin.
Civil society organizations solicited the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights to maintain the precautionary measures granted in 2011 in favor of the indigenous peoples of the Xingú river basin. They did so as a response to the Brazilian government’s request that the Commission lift the measures, which were authorized to avoid irreparable damage to the rights of the communities.
The Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA), Justiça Global, the Sociedad Paraense de Defensa de los Derechos Humanos (SDDH) and the Movimiento Xingú Vivo para Siempre (MXPVS) filed the brief on behalf of indigenous and river communities affected by Belo Monte.
The organizations argued before the Commission that the social and environmental situation surrounding Belo Monte continues to be serious and urgent, and could cause irreparable damages. Their arguments are based on a recent report by the Socio-Environmental Institute of Brazil (ISA), as well as on official government data that include information from health and indigenous protection authorities and the Public Ministry.
The ISA report analyzes in detail the situation of Altamira, Pará—the region where Belo Monte is being constructed—and emphasizes the human rights violations and irregularities of the project. The report warns that necessary conditions do not exist for the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA) to grant the project’s operating license. If granted, the license would authorize the filling of the dam, and, thus, the final diversion of the Xingú River. One part of the dam would then begin operation.
According to the ISA report, measures to avoid the project’s impacts on health, education and basic sanitation have not been met. This neglect will lead to further damage, such as the fracturing of indigenous communities, saturation of public health services, lower quality education, and greater forest degradation.
“The consequences we announced years ago are now a reality,” said Astrid Puentes Riaño, co-director of AIDA. “The filling of the dam, scheduled for the year’s end, will cause the loss of homes and land, and the modification of the traditional lifestyles and livelihoods of Xingú communities. Brazilian authorities and the Commission must act effectively to prevent this disaster.”
It is clear that the conditions necessary for Norte Energía, the consortium in charge of the project, to receive the license are not in place. The vice-governor of Pará explained that although the construction is 70 percent complete, only 30 percent of the social and environmental conditions have been met. Similarly, the Attorney of the Republic of Altamira, Thais Santi, said that the consortium is not respecting the protection plan for indigenous lands, the principal condition for the protection of the peoples of the Xingú.
The decision on the authorization of Belo Monte must also take into account the recent corruption scandal that has engulfed the project. The investigation Lava Jato, which began a year ago, exposed a massive network of corruption involving the government and Brazil’s largest construction companies. A senior executive, currently in prison on corruption charges, mentioned in his declaration how they had set up and executed bribes for the construction of Belo Monte. The Comptroller General (CGU) thereafter decided to investigate the use of public funds in the project.
“The lack of effective control in the execution of the project has made the consequences much worse than anticipated. Giving free reign of operation to the dam at this time would mean completely shutting down the options available to avoid major social and humanitarian disasters in the region,” said Sandy Faidherb of SDDH.