One hundred organizations, representing 40 communities in 11 municipalities in the state of Pará, in northern Brazil, have presented a 20-page document to UN representatives denouncing the danger of violations of human rights if construction of the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam and power plant on the Xingu River goes ahead.
Tender bids for the construction of Belo Monte are scheduled to be opened on April 20. The power plant will be Brazil’s second biggest, and the third biggest in the world behind only Three Gorges, in China, and Itaipu, on the border of Brazil and Paraguay.
When completed it will generate 11,000 MW and form two reservoirs that will extend for 516 square kilometers. According to activists opposed to the construction, lands occupied by 30 indigenous groups will be flooded and one-third of the municipality of Altamira, where 20,000 people live, will be affected.
According to Andressa Caldas, a director of Global Justice (Justiça Global), an NGO, the environmental license that Belo Monte received on February 1st, was the result of political pressure and infringes Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization, which was ratified by president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva six years ago, in April 2004.
Convention 169 deals with Indigenous Peoples and Tribes in Independent Countries. Article 15 of the convention states that governments should consult affected peoples so as to ascertain if they will be harmed whenever existing resources on their lands are to be explored or exploited.
A spokesperson for the activists points out that although the Brazilian Environmental Protection Institute (Ibama) held four meetings with indigenous groups last year and the president of Ibama, Roberto Messias, met with indigenous leaders, the encounters were insufficient. However, a federal judge in Altamira, ruled that the audiences by Ibama were “valid,” and that it was not necessary to “meet with each and every community that will be affected.”
The denouncement at the UN follows the failure of efforts by activist groups in Brazilian courts to suspend the license. In February, when Ibama announced it was emitting the Belo Monte license, the archbishop of Altamira, Dom Erwin Krautler, in an interview with Rádio Nacional da Amazônia, called the license “inopportune… as the project devastates the whole region.”
Krautler also expressed the fears of many who oppose Belo Monte: “This project will not be the only one,” he said, “it will be followed by many others.” Another NGO, Rivers International, says it has information that as many as a hundred large dams are planned on rivers in the Amazon region.
Meanwhile, spokespersons for Ibama point out that the environmental license was approved only after a favorable report from the National Indian Foundation (Incra), and that the license does not authorize construction but rather the start of a preliminary stage consisting of no less than 40 environmentally-friendly preparatory tasks, including the creation of new conservation units in the region.