By Sovereign Hager
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America
PARA, Brazil-On April 16, 2010 a judge in the capital, Brasília overturned a ruling halting construction on a dam project to be built in Para State because it would cause “irreparable harm” to indigenous people. The project, known as the Belo Monte Dam, will involve the excavation of two channels larger than the Panama Canal to divert water from the main dam to the power plant. The reservoir will flood more than one hundred and sixty square miles of forest while drying up a sixty mile stretch of the Xingu River, which will displace more than 20,000 people, many of which are indigenous communities.
Thirteen affected indigenous groups have formed a new tribe of 2,500, which they have stationed directly on the construction site. They plan to occupy it as long as necessary. The chief told the New York Times that they need the river to travel and eat. The groups affected include the Kayapó, Arara, Juruna, Araweté, Xikrin, Asurini, and Parakanã groups. Over eight hundred and fifty people protested what will be the largest dam in the world. Human rights organizations have warned that the dam construction will also bring migrants to the area and threaten uncontacted indigenous people, who have little resistance to outside disease. According to Survival International, many believe that the dam energy will be used to serve the mining industry. A bill is currently before the Brazilian government that would allow mining on indigenous land.
The new ruling allows the auction of bids to take place on April 20, 2010. The Chief of the Arara tribe, José Carolos Arara called the last case “our last cry for help” in a quest to defend their rights after a meeting of thirteen tribes last month, the New York Times reported. Environmentalists have stated that the dams are in fact inefficient and produce less than capacity annually, thus causing fear that the government would still have to build more dams upstream. This would further displace indigenous communities.
The latest ruling found that there was “no imminent danger for the indigenous community” because the auction of bids did not “imply immediate destruction.” The auction, one of numerous stages in the dam project was therefore allowed to go forward as planned. The Brazilian government is trying to meet the growing energy needs of urban areas, constantly requiring new energy projects. The Brazilian government has warned that halting the auction would cause “grave harm” to the economy and could potentially cause Brazil to seek other forms of energy that are more expensive and polluting than the hydroelectric project.
The plans for the dam were developed over thirty years ago before Brazil had constitutional protections for for indigenous peoples. The judge in the recent ruling stated that the Congress would have to pass a law changing the Constitution’s limits on building dams that negatively affect indigenous communities. An appeal to the recent ruling has been filed by Attorney General’s office. Indigenous activists have promised a “river of blood” if the dam project moves forward.
For more information, please see:
Latin American Herald Tribune-Judge’s Ruling Gives Green Light for Massive Brazil Dam-18 April 2010
BBC-Judge Allows Start of Bids on Controversial Dam Project-17 April 2010
Latin America Press-Amazon State Attorney Seeks to Stop Hydroelectric Project-17 April 2010
New York Times-Amazon Dam Project Pits Economic Development Benefit Against Development of Indigenous Lands-16 April 2010
Survival International-Indians and Activists March Against Amazon Mega-Dam-14 April 2010