Delivered to the United Nations last Thursday, April 1st, a document claims that flaws in the environmental licensing process for the controversial Belo Monte Dam in Brazil were overlooked due to political pressure from the Lula administration.
The complaint documents the illegal and arbitrary nature of project approval, and how political pressure was brought to bear on licensing staff who questioned the irregularities in the licensing process.
More than 100 social movements, organizations and unions representing more than 40 communities in 11 cities signed the complaint, which also highlights the human rights violations that have and will occur if the project is built. The complaint states that opponents of the project have received death threats and intimidation as a result of their opposition.
The Belo Monte Hydroelectric Plant would be built in the Amazon region, close to the city of Altamira, Pará. The construction will involve excavating an amount of earth comparable to that moved for the Panama Canal, and will include the construction of two artificial reservoirs, flooding 516 km².
The entire Xingu River basin will be affected, an area that encompasses 30 indigenous lands, including four extractive reserves and eight environmental conservation units.
On February 1, 2010, IBAMA issued the provisional license for the construction of the hydroelectric plant. The document submitted this week to the UN denounces irregularities that were ignored by IBAMA’s directors, such as the lack of prior consultation with the affected communities and the weakness of the project’s Environmental Impact Assessment.
The political pressure exerted to obtain project approval regardless of the project’s irregularities is evident. Just two days before the license was granted, IBAMA’s own technical staff signed a note clearly stating that “there is insufficient evidence to demonstrate the environmental feasibility of the project.”
Two days later, the Brazilian Attorney General threatened to sue Pará’s federal prosecutors if they questioned the license’s legality, in a move perceived as arbitrary and intimidating by the leadership of the Federal Public Ministry.
“For us it is clear that government and big business” interests are overriding the law and international treaties to which Brazil is signatory,” said Antonia Melo, one of the leaders of the Xingu Forever Alive Movement, a network that brings together over 150 organizations, social movements and community associations.
Melo is one of those at risk because of her opposition to the plant’s construction. “I no longer leave my house, and barely walk down the street with my children,” she says.
Behind the threats to Antonia and other activists – like Don Erwin, Bishop of the Xingu – are employees of the company Camargo Corrêa and ranchers and politicians who control the media in the region.
“In 2008, even officials of the Brazilian Intelligence Agency (ABIN) tried to intimidate me, but we denounced the activities of agents to the Federal Public Ministry,” says Melo
The document was sent to the following UN special rapporteurs: indigenous peoples’ rights, housing rights, right to food, right to physical and mental health, human rights, displaced people, independence of judges and lawyers.
The organizations that signed the complaint request the UN to ask the Brazilian government for more detailed information about the project, that the UN Rapporteurs undertake a site visit to Para, and that Brazil reconsiders building Belo Monte plant.
If construction starts, Brazil could be held responsible internationally for environmental crimes and abuses of human rights caused by the dam.