Belo Monte :
Chief Raoni's petition

BELO MONTE : jewel of an energy policy which tramples the laws of its country and international conventions

BELO MONTE : jewel of an energy policy which tramples the laws of its country and international conventions

© Gert-Peter Bruch

The energy policy of the Brazilian president, Dilma Rousseff, is not only in contradiction to the constitutional principles of the country, but it is also in complete violation of the international commitments taken by Brazil itself. In this context, the Belo Monte dam project has been the target of much criticism from international and Brazilian institutions.

The project was, at first, rejected by the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA), then by the Public Federal Ministry, condemned next by the Supreme Court of Brazil, criticized by the UN through the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of Indigenous Peoples, then finally by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States (OAS).

IBAMA, put in charge of leading environmental impact assessments, had on several occasions rejected the cartels' propositions, until it had to give in to the pressure of the then President of the Brazilian Republic, Lula Da Silva. .

IBAMA's technical team, assigned to the project, first declared that « there are insufficient elements to certify the environmental viability of the project » on account of the omission of data in the EIA. The missing data rests on the water quality, the socioeconomic indicators and the fish populations. Fragile plans to attenuate the direct impacts on the riverside families were conceived at the last minute, provoking severe divisions within the agency. In spite of this, in February 2010 the IBAMA chief approved the EIA, by temporarily granting an environmental license, stipulating that the consortium winning the invitation to tender would have to watch over the project's impacts of a « trial run » of six years. A way to put off the problem...

The Brazilian Minister of the Environment, Carlos Minc, then found himself obliged to concede shortened delays, and the preliminary authorization to the construction of the Belo Monte dam was given in January 2011, after the resignation of several people in charge in IBAMA. Dilma Rousseff's government, succeeding President Lula, finally gave its final consent to the project on the 1st of June 2011, to Norte Energia SA – NESA, allowing the start of the works as early as summer 2011, in the dry season.

For his part, the Public Federal Minister has announced from the start that he would, by any means, block the realization of these dams. Several lawsuits in 2010 were deposited by 13 organizations from the civil society against IBAMA for having granted the temporary environmental permit without responding to the omissions brought up in the environmental assessment. The complaints, that had been judged acceptable by the Federal Judge of Altamira, concerned the absence of data on water quality, which is a violation of the national environmental CONAMA resolution 357, which establishes norms for water quality, and the article 176 of the federal brazilian constitution, which prohibits the development of the hydrologic energy potential on native lands without meeting the obligations incumbent upon it.

In response to this act, the Attorney General of the Union (AGU) deposited an administrative procedure against the federal prosecutors. For the human rights organizations, this means that the executive used its power to intimidate those who question the construction of the Belo Monte dam. But on the 12th September 2011, this procedure was rejected by the Regional Federal Court of Altamira, thus returning the judicial competence to the Federal Courts of Altamira and Belem. It is in this scope that the Federal Court's trials have been taking place since the end of September 2011.

As a reminder, the first judgment pronounced on September 28, 2011 by the Federal Judge of Altamira prohibits the Electrobas/Norte Energia consortium to alter the Xingu river bed, by "the setting up of a port, explosions, the construction of a dyke, digging canals or any other work which changes its natural course." This refers to the fact that 80% of the Xingu River will be diverted from its initial bed. The quantity of earth which will need to be removed for its construction will be greater than that removed during the construction of the Panama Canal. The complaint is issued by the Altamira Association of Breeders and Exporters of Ornamental Fish – ACEPOAT. However, the suspension order does not concern the work of installing the building site or the construction of the workers' housing.

A second judicial decision was awaited on the 17th October 2011. The concern was to treat an appeal from the Federal Prosecutor – MPF which contests the decree authorizing the starting of the construction. The MPF blames the authorities of not having proceeded to the « Free, Prior and Informed Consultation » of the native communities before giving the authorization to start the works. The judge in charge of the report declared herself favorable to the cancellation of the decree.

On the other hand, a second judge used his « right of inspection » which led to the trial being postponed to the 26th October 2011. On that day, this judge defended the validity of the decree. During the hearing, a third judge, who was recently nominated to the court, used her "right of inspection" as well. The decision was postponed to November 9th. This judge also defended the validity of the decree. With two votes against one, the court therefore made its decision accordingly. The Federal Prosecutor has already announced his intention to make an appeal to the Supreme Federal Court. The judges' independence, however, was called into question.

A complaint was deposited by the Brazilian civil society to the Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers.

On August 19th, August 2011 in Geneva, the Special Rapporteur of the United Nations on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, invited the Brazilian authorities to take immediate measures to provide judges, prosecuting attorneys, prosecutors, lawyers and appointed lawyers, with efficient and appropriate measures of protection. "It is high time for the government to install a national protection system in order to allow the judges to fulfill their roles with integrity and security and without fearing for their lives or for their families," said Knaul. The call from this expert in human rights appeared after the assassination of the judge, Patrícia Lourival Acioli, known for her fight against criminal gangs, death squads and corrupt police officers, as well as the reports of death threats against many judges. "The murder of Judge Acioli is proof of the existence of a serious problem concerning the protection of judges in Brazil," added Knaul, who is a Brazilian judge herself. The National Council of Justice reported that at least 69 judges were threatened throughout the entire country, while studies from the Ministry of Justice indicate that more than 90 judges are, for the most part, on a list in which their heads are at stake.

-  by Valérie Cabanes (translated from french to english by Alice Dageville) -

By threatening the heart of the amazon forest, the BELO MONTE dam is standing in the way of our future.


Say "no" to the Belo Monte dam, sign Chief Raoni's petition