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Despite International Outcry Lula Gives Green Light to Belo Monte Hydroelectric Plant

Indian protestThe president of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva signed Thursday the contracts for the Norte Energia consortium to start construction of a controversial hydroelectric dam in the Amazon basin. 

Environmental and social organizations oppose the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant, which they believe will have disastrous consequences for the region around the town of Altamira in the Amazonian state of Pará.

The contract gives the consortium of 18 firms and investment and pension funds the right to exploit for 35 years the energy potential of the plant, set on the Xingu river.

The facility is scheduled to begin operating by 2015, becoming the third-largest of its kind in the world, while the construction will generate around 20,000 jobs, according to the Brazilian Mining and Energy Ministry.

The government stressed that the original project has been changed to ease its environmental impact, and that the dam associated with the plant has been reduced by 60% so that it does not require flooding areas currently held by indigenous communities.

Despite such assurances, the ceremony attracted protests from a small group of demonstrators gathered outside the presidential palace in Brasília. On their placards, protesters changed the name from Belo Monte (Beautiful Hill) to Belo Monstro (Beautiful Monster) as a satire against the plant.

Demonstrators issued a letter signed by 56 religious, social and environmental organizations including the Roman Catholic Church. The text says the plant will be a “death sentence” for the Xingu River and will displace “thousands of people from their homes.”

“International agreements are being violated, like Convention 169 of the World Labor Organization, the United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Convention on Biological Diversity,” the letter charges.

It notes that the plant is the object of 15 lawsuits that contest the construction permit issued by the Environment Ministry.

The plant, with a capacity to generate 11,233 megawatts, is expected to cost an estimated US$ 11 billion and is the biggest project of Lula’s infrastructure-based growth acceleration program. But indigenous communities vowed earlier this year to wage “war” on the plant if it is built.

“Belo Monte will dry 100 kilometers of the Xingu, a river which holds three times as many species as the whole of Europe and which feeds thousands of people,” warned Raul Silva Telles of the non- governmental organization Instituto Socioambiental. “In this area there are two indigenous tribes that feed on the river, drink from the river, bathe in the river and sail through the river”.

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  • DU 48

    Belo Monte- Lula’s worst nightmare
    Washington Novaes, one of the few journalists with sound environmental credentials, writes in the Estado newspaper today. Below is an extract from his column.
    Sobering thoughts for everybody living in Brazil.

    Ao mesmo tempo, entretanto, o Ministério do Meio Ambiente anuncia que vai rever o processo de licenciamento ambiental para obras de infraestrutura, com o propósito de chegar a “licenciamentos mais rápidos e eliminar exigências desnecessárias” – como se o retardamento das licenças não se devesse muito mais aos problemas gerados pelos empreendimentos e à insuficiência dos respectivos estudos de impacto ambiental. Na verdade, bastaria que os licenciadores aplicassem um artigo da Resolução 1/86 do Conselho Nacional de Meio Ambiente – que manda examinar antes de tudo se não há alternativas menos problemáticas – para negar a licença.

    Um desses casos poderia ser exatamente o da Hidrelétrica de Belo Monte, no Rio Xingu, cujo contrato com as empresas construtoras o presidente da República assinou na semana passada, antes mesmo de concedida a licença de instalação – o que não deveria ocorrer. Uma usina combatida por centenas de instituições e considerada, na revista do Instituto de Engenharia de São Paulo (Estado, 27/8), “uma vergonha”.

  • Mertin

    You can rest assured that Brazil’s culture of fatalist Catholic superstition, and love of thugs who steal public money, will decimate the country ecologically. Not a week goes by without a story of some mayor somewhere selling a couple of hundred thousand hectares of virgin public forest to crooked partner.

    In twenty years time the rains in the north will be reducing and these large hydroelectric projects will be silting up with erosion of vast treeless expanses.

    It’s a great pity that, worldwide, Catholic culture has never come to terms with and intellectual concept more sophisticated than short term environmental rape.

    From the Maltese shooting at migratory bird that passes overhead to working against protection of the dwindling tuna stocks… Mafia dumping rubbish at tourist sites like the Blue Grotto to Brazilians burning public forests to plant soya and then let loose European cattle on poor eroding pasture… Brazilians burning the world’s most expensive timber to plant eucalyptus, the world’s cheapest to Brazilian mayors selling public forests to their friends.

    It is a great shame that Catholics colonised Central and South America… they turned pristine environments into thug playgrounds… and now the sand in the playpen is running out.

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