Indigenous Rights Controversies Around Belo Monte Dam Tie Up Brazil's Courts

Amazon Watch International Rivers AIDA

Recent lawsuits by Brazil's Federal Public Prosecutors (MPF) concerning the Belo Monte dam are demanding accountability from the dam-building Norte Energia consortium, Brazil's National Development Bank (BNDES) and the state environmental agency IBAMA for noncompliance with mandated mitigation measures concerning the Juruna and Xikrin Kayapó, two indigenous groups affected by the mega-project.

Dam construction begins on the Xingu River. Photo credit: Getty Images

The lawsuits demonstrate that conditions placed upon the dam's environmental licensing have not been met and call for compensation for socio-environmental impacts of the dam, currently under construction on the Xingu River in the Brazilian Amazon.

The MPF filed a lawsuit in late August showing that Norte Energia was deliberately reneging its obligation to purchase land and provide health services for the Juruna indigenous community Km 17, one of the most vulnerable to the impacts of Belo Monte's construction due to its proximity to the constant movement of heavy machinery and workers.

This lawsuit led the national indigenous National Indian Foundation (FUNAI) to issue a complaint to IBAMA, demanding that Norte Energia be held accountable for noncompliance with this formal condition of the environmental licenses for Belo Monte. The Federal Court of Pará State responded this week by giving Norte Energia 60 days to purchase the Juruna land and deliver health care or face daily fines of R$200,000 (U.S.$87,000).

"The situation here has only gotten worse," said Sheyla Juruna, a member of the Km 17 community known for her local and international activism in defense of her community's rights. "Belo Monte created the illusion that people would get everything they didn't have. That's when the problems began. Support from FUNAI never came and our health conditions are precarious. Civil society thinks that the indigenous have rights, yet our rights are being violated every day."

Following the ruling in favor of the Juruna community the MPF filed another lawsuit targeting the neglect of BNDES, IBAMA and Norte Energia stemming from the absence of prior analysis of impacts and associated compensation measures for Xikrin Kayapó communities that are also threatened by Belo Monte. The lawsuit charges that these three institutions violated the rights of the Xikrin Kayapó when they allowed construction to commence on the project without measuring the impacts it would cause to the indigenous group, whose villages are based on the Bacajá River, a tributary to the Xingu directly adjacent to the dam's most serious impacts.

The MPF has asked the Judiciary to suspend Belo Monte's installation license, paralyzing the project until Norte Energia can present findings on the project's impacts and its corresponding compensations for indigenous communities. The lawsuit is unprecedented in its scope as it could force the consortium and BNDES, financier of 80 percent of the dam's costs, to indemnify affected indigenous groups of the Xingu for the delay in measuring and mitigating its socio-environmental repercussions.

"We truly have reason to celebrate seeing BNDES is finally being charged as a responsible party in Belo Monte's disastrous impacts," said Maíra Irigaray Castro of Amazon Watch. "It is time for financiers to pay for the criminal negligence exemplified by noncompliance with conditionalities, which they should also be monitoring for all projects that they finance."

Norte Energia's failure to comply with Belo Monte's legally mandated conditions is not new. IBAMA released a report in July confirming that the compliance has worsened as the dam's construction has sped up. The report shows that only four out of 23 conditions concerning local urban populations have been met.

"Last week we had a meeting with representatives of the government and local people and their discontent is clear," said Antonia Melo, coordinator of the Xingu Alive Forever Movement. "There is no fresh water, no electricity, no health care, no schools and no sanitation. We cannot accept that the conditions, that are fundamental rights guaranteed by our constitution, be undermined in this way. IBAMA must suspend construction, as defined by law, until these conditions are met."

"These legal actions add to the existing evidence of the severe impacts that the Belo Monte dam is having on human rights and the environment in the Xingu, and of the responsibility of all Brazilian agencies involved in the project," said María José Veramendi of Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA). "We look forward to a positive result of these legal actions and that Brazil will effectively comply with applicable national and international laws, as all agencies involved can be legally responsible and the State can be internationally responsible for these human rights violations."

Per FUNAI's request, as well as the lawsuits brought by the Public Prosecutors, both IBAMA and the federal judges could suspend the dam's installation license until all the requirements and conditions are met.

"The characterization of Amazonian dams as clean and cheap energy is based on the ability of project proponents, including BNDES, to 'externalize' their true social and environmental risks and impacts. These lawsuits are significant in that they're sending a signal that they are indeed being held accountable for their decisions and the damage that they cause to the environment and indigenous peoples," said Brent Millikan, Amazon program director at International Rivers.

Visit EcoWatch’s ENERGY page for more related news on this topic.



Show Comments ()

Three Outlandish Ideas to Cool the Planet

By Jeremy Deaton

Climate change is a big, ugly, unwieldy problem, and it's getting worse by the day. Emissions are rising. Ice is melting, and virtually no one is taking the carbon crisis as seriously as the issue demands. Countries need to radically overhaul their energy systems in just a few short decades, replacing coal, oil and gas with clean energy. Even if countries overcome the political obstacles necessary to meet that aim, they can expect heat waves, drought and storms unseen in the history of human civilization and enough flooding to submerge Miami Beach.

Keep reading... Show less

Those Little Produce Stickers? They’re a Big Waste Problem

By Dan Nosowitz

Those little produce stickers are ubiquitous fruits and vegetables everywhere. But, as CBC notes, they're actually a significant problem despite their small size.

Keep reading... Show less

Despite Trump’s Bluster, U.S. Officials and Scientists Maintain Climate Work with International Partners

Trump has loudly declared his intention to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris agreement, but, behind the tweets and the headlines, U.S. officials and scientists have carried on working with international partners to fight climate change, Reuters reported Wednesday.

Keep reading... Show less
Gina Loudon and administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt speaking at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. Gage Skidmore

EPA Sued Over Failure to Release Correspondence With Heartland Institute

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is being sued for its "unlawful and unreasonable delay" in responding to requests for information about the agency's communications with the Heartland Institute, according to a complaint by the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).

The Heartland Institute is an Illinois-based think tank that rejects the science of man-made climate change and has received funding from the Koch brothers and the fossil fuel industry.

Keep reading... Show less
Trump Watch
Aerial photo of Duke Energy Coal Ash Spill. Wake Forest University Center for Energy, Environment & Sustainability

Trump Administration Seeks to Gut Water Pollution Safeguards, Putting Communities at Risk

By Mary Anne Hitt

A Hollywood scriptwriter couldn't make this up. One day after new data revealed widespread toxic water contamination near coal ash disposal sites, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Scott Pruitt announced a proposal to repeal the very 2015 EPA safeguards that had required this data to be tracked and released in the first place. Clean water is a basic human right that should never be treated as collateral damage on a corporate balance sheet, but that is exactly what is happening.

Keep reading... Show less
Impossible Foods

Impossible Burger Executive Grilled at Sustainable Foods Summit

An executive from a company selling a genetically engineered meat alternative faced tough questions at the Sustainable Foods Summit held in San Francisco at the end of January.

Keep reading... Show less
Elephant family in Kenya. Nzomo Victor / Flickr

Why Trump’s New Trophy Hunting Council Is a Disaster

By Elly Pepper

In early November—the same week the Trump administration announced its disastrous decision to allow elephant and lion trophy imports from Zimbabwe and Zambia—the administration decided to create an advisory committee, the International Wildlife Conservation Council (IWCC), to advise Trump on how to enhance trophy hunters' ability to hunt internationally.

Yup, that means the administration now has a council dedicated exclusively to promoting the killing of more imperiled species, like elephants and lions, for sport. The council's mandate includes counseling Trump on the economic, conservation, and anti-poaching benefits of trophy hunting, of which there are very few. Sadly, Trump doesn't want advice on the many drawbacks of trophy hunting.

Keep reading... Show less
A robot bee from a season three episode of Black Mirror on Netflix

Walmart Files Patent for Robot Bees

With the mass die-off of bees spelling trouble for agriculture, the world's largest retailer has filed patents for the use of "unmanned vehicles," or drones, to aid with pollination and crop production.

In U.S. Patent Office documents made public last week, Walmart has applied for six patents on drones designed to identify pest damage, spray pesticides and pollinate plants.

Keep reading... Show less


The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!