Brazilian Judge Halts Belo Monte Dam Construction, Temporarily


Controversy continues over a major hydroelectric project in the heart of Brazil’s Amazon rain forest after a federal judge halted on work on the site, only to have his ruling reversed five days later.

Agence France-Presse reported Brasilia Federal Court Judge Antonio Souza suspended construction on the Belo Monte dam on Friday, Oct. 25, saying Norte Energia, the consortium behind the project, violated its environmental commitments. The following Wednesday, Federal Court President Mario Cesar Ribeiro, ordered work to resume on the grounds that only special courts can suspend the project.

Throughout the stoppage, Norte Energia told AFP it was “rigorously complying with its obligations and commitments.” Still, the rulings reflect the ongoing battle over the $13-billion megaproject, which was initially approved in 2011 over the objections of indigenous communities who warned of ecological damage and mass displacement.

If built, Belo Monte would become the world’s third largest dam and would require the more earth moving than the construction of the Panama Canal, according to a report by The Rainforest Foundation.

Belo Monte is expected to produce 11,000 megawatts of electricity and will flood 500-square-kilometer (300-square-mile) of the Xingu river basin, displacing roughly 16,000 people and affecting 18 different ethnic groups.

The project will divert the Xingu River, reducing its water flow by 80 percent in an area known as the Volta Grande or “Big Bend”, where large indigenous communities rely on the river for transportation, food production and fish.

“Belo Monte would be the first major dam in the last 20 years to displace and affect the natural resources of indigenous peoples in Brazil,” the Rainforest Foundation stated in its report. “This is an important test for the dozens of dams that are planned and would impact indigenous lands.”

Belo Monte is one of more than 40 dams planned for the Amazon River basin over the next decade and the recent legal conflicts are not the first to interrupt work on the site. In March 2012, a first regional court stopped construction on Belo Monte, but the Supreme Federal Tribunal overturned that ruling two months later.

Independent researchers have said the majority of Belo Monte’s energy output will go towards the aluminum industry and will not benefit the people living in the Para region where it will be constructed.

AFP Report

Rainforest Foundation Report

Agencia EFE Report