By: Brent Millikan, International Rivers
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Brasília, Brazil - The Brazilian government has issued the full installation license allowing the Belo Monte Dam Complex to break ground on the Amazon's Xingu River despite egregious disregard for human rights and environmental legislation, the unwavering protests of civil society, condemnations by its Federal Public Prosecutor's Office (MPF) and the request for precautionary measures by the OAS Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). The license was granted by Brazil's environmental agency IBAMA despite overwhelming evidence that the dam-building consortium Norte Energia (NESA) has failed to comply with dozens of social and environmental conditions required for an installation license.
The risky $17 billion Belo Monte Dam Complex will divert nearly the entire flow of the Xingu River along a 62-mile stretch. Its reservoirs will flood more than 120,000 acres of rainforest and local settlements, displace more than 40,000 people and generate vast quantities of methane - a greenhouse gas at least 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
The installation license will allow for NESA to open access roads, initiate forest clearing at dam construction sites encompassing some 2,118 acres, and begin construction on the complex immediately. It also instigates publically subsidized funding from Brazil's National Development Bank (BNDES) to finance 80 percent of the project's spiraling costs. The bank has come under increasing scrutiny from the Public Prosecutor's office and civil society due to alarming evidence that approval is based on political grounds, often downplaying problems of economic viability and compliance with social and environmental safeguards.
"This is a tragic day for the Amazon," said Atossa Soltani, Executive Director at Amazon Watch. "By turning a blind eye toward the tragic consequences of this dam, President Dilma Rouseff is undermining the positive environmental and social advances Brazil has made in recent years and miring its image on the global stage just as it prepares to host the UN Rio+20 Earth Summit next year."
The decision follows years of recently escalating intense local opposition and a string of government resignations in rejection of the parameters of the project, including IBAMA's president Abelardo Bayma, who allegedly resigned over the Belo Monte dam project license amidst intense political pressures from the Ministry of Mines and Energy and President Dilma Rousseff.
"The installation license for the Belo Monte Dam is in clear violation of the recent request by the IACHR to stop any construction until precautionary measures are met. Now the Brazilian government is in clear violation of human rights, especially those of indigenous peoples affected by the project. By moving forward with this project, Brazil has denounced the authority of the IACHR and has completely rejected international human rights treaties," said Astrid Puentes, Co-Director of the Inter-American Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA), one of the legal groups who filed the petition to the IACHR representing Xingu communities.
Fierce opposition by local inhabitants to Belo Monte has not wavered. "Belo Monte's installation license is a sign of the government's deepening authoritarianism, as it continues to steamroll over environmental legislation and human rights," said Antônia Melo, a spokeswoman for the Xingu Alive Forever Movement (MXVPS). "The government seeks to build this dam at any cost in order to benefit corporate interests at our expense. We will not cede an inch. This license is the entryway to a crime that we will prevent from being committed at any cost."
- Christian Poirier, Amazon Watch: +1 510 666 7565, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Caroline Bennett, Amazon Watch: +1 415 487 9600, email@example.com
- Brent Millikan, International Rivers: +55 61 8153 7009, firstname.lastname@example.org