Belo-Monte Dam, Brazil

Hyroelectric project on the Xingú River. The 3rd largest in the world, installed capacity 11.233 MW. The Brazilian government is currently constructing what would be the world’s third-largest hydroelectric project on one of the Amazon’s major tributaries, the Xingu River. The Belo Monte Dam would divert the flow of the Xingu, devastate an extensive area of the Brazilian rainforest, displace over 20,000 people, and threaten the survival of indigenous tribes that depend on the river. The government says the project will cost more than US$13 billion. While the project will have an installed capacity of 11,233 MW, the dam would be highly inefficient, generating as little as 1000 MW during the 3-4 month low water season. This will be an argument to buil further dams upstream. The project is owned by a consortium called Norte Energia, mostly owned by the government, but mining giant Vale owns around 5% of it. Belo Monte will be a source of electricity for Vale’s mining operations in Para. However, the economics of Belo Monte are very doubtful. The Brazilian government has plans to build more than 60 large dams in the Amazon Basin over the next 20 years, implying the destruction of all the magnificent rivers of the Amazon. As the International Rivers network puts it: “The Amazon will become an endless series of lifeless reservoirs, its life drained away by giant walls of concrete and steel”. International Rivers is trying to help the Kayapó and other indigenous groups, lawmakers, and environmental and human rights groups to protect the Xingu River Basin from large dams The country now has around 121,000 megawatts, of which at least 70% is from hydroelectric power plants. There are plans to increase hydroelectricity beyond the real needs of the population. Such plans are driven by primary exports. Belo Monte is a government project. It is funded primarily by BNDES, a bank with a lending portfolio bigger than the Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank combined. Electricity would belong to Eletrobras, Brazil’s government controlled electric power company. The area around Belo Monte now looks like a deforested huge mining operation. An article in Forbes foresees that Belo Monte will face large cost overruns, apart from let alone the environmental damage caused by diverting the tributaries of the Xingu, preventing navigation and fishing.The 25,000 workers there will not be employed forever. They have maybe two years to go if all goes according to plan and Belo is finished in 2016. There are continuous complaints from displaced indigenous peoples. In late May 2014, it was reported in The Ecologist that "20 Amazon Indians walked to the Belo Monte dam site to demand the company keep its promises to compensate indigenous communities. Police shot them with 'rubber bullets' and stun grenades, wounding four...". This has happened again and again.
Basic Data
NameBelo-Monte Dam, Brazil
Accuracy of LocationMEDIUM regional level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Water Management
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Dams and water distribution conflicts
Specific CommoditiesElectricity
Project Details and Actors
Project Details
About 20 000 persons will be displaced, belonging to indigenous groups Juruna, Xikrín, Arara, Xipaia, Kuruaya y Kayapó. If other dams are build upstream to secure the water flow in the dry season, the flooded area could reach 18,000 km². The number of displaced people could double.
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Project Area (in hectares)614,000
Level of Investment (in USD)13,000,000,000
Type of PopulationRural
Potential Affected Population20000-40000
Start Date2005
Company Names or State EnterprisesNorte Energía S.A.
Vale S.A. (Vale) from Brazil
Relevant government actorsGobierno de Brasil, Ministerio de Ambiente, Ministerio de Industria, FUNAI
International and Financial InstitutionsBanco Nacional de Desenvolvimento Econômico e Social (BNDES) from Brazil
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersInternational Rivers, Amigos da Terra-Amazonia Brasileira, indigenous groups (Munduruku in the Tapajós and Xikrin, Araras, Kayapós and Jurunas in the Xingú), Survival, Movimiento de los Afectados por Represas (MAB), Movimiento Xingú Vivo para Siempre (MXVPS)
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginPREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups MobilizingFishermen
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Social movements
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Local scientists/professionals
Religious groups
Forms of MobilizationBlockades
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Street protest/marches
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
Arguments for the rights of mother nature
Refusal of compensation
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Desertification/Drought, Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Potential: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Fires, Food insecurity (crop damage), Global warming, Noise pollution, Soil contamination, Soil erosion, Waste overflow, Oil spills, Groundwater pollution or depletion
OtherLa desaparición de las especies piscícolas migradoras de la zona, destrucción de la agricultura tradicional, afecciones a la calidad de las aguas, destrucción de selva tropical, afección a la biodiversidad en una extensa área alrededor del proyecto (la zona ya no recibirá las inundaciones periódicas estacionales necesarias para el mantenimiento del ecosistema). En concreto se prevé la afección a especies amenazadas de peces, tortugas y monos araña.
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
Potential: Malnutrition, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..) , Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution, Infectious diseases
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Displacement, Militarization and increased police presence
Potential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Increase in violence and crime, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Violations of human rights
OtherPérdida de vías de comunicación hacia los mercados tradicionales por desecación de un tramo de 100 km aproximadamente de río.
Project StatusUnder construction
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCriminalization of activists
Court decision (undecided)
Violent targeting of activists
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Los grupos indígenas no están dispuestos a ceder sus territorios. No aceptan compensaciones. Hay represión continua contra grupos indígenas que bloquean carreteras y obras.
Do you consider this as a success?No
Why? Explain briefly.En enero de 2011 se aprobó una Licencia Parcial de Instalación del proyecto ignorando las advertencias del Fiscal Federal, ya que en la legislación brasileña no existe esa categoría de licencia o autorización. Las obras de construcción de los diques comenzaron en junio de 2011. Mientras tanto se han presentado más de una docena de demandas contra el proyecto por asociaciones civiles y por abogados públicos. Una demanda sobre la obligación de consulta a los pueblos indígenas afectados estaba espera de juicio en la Corte Suprema, ya que no se han realizado los procedimientos de consultas previas y consentimiento a los indígenas de la zona como prescribe la Constitución y los acuerdos internacionales firmados. Actualmente el proyecto se encuentra en construcción.
Sources and Materials

Constitución Brasileña

Derecho de consulta y autorización de actuaciones en territorios de grupos indígenas


Report by International Rivers
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Was Brazil's Belo Monte Dam A Bad Idea?
(Forbes, 7 March 2014)
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Article in The Ecologist, 30 May 2014
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Página de International Rivers dedicada a Belo Monte
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Blog sobre la ocupación de Belo Monte.
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Movimento dos Atingidos por Barragens (MAB), 2013, Consorcio de Belo Monte prohíbe a los afectados por represas manifestarse
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Media Links

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Violence against indigenous peoples, in May 2014, photos
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Indígenas ocupan Belo Monte
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Other Documents

Belo Monte protest Photo credit: Mitchell Anderson.
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native from the Caiapo tribe A native from the Caiapo tribe holds a poster of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff during a protest against the construction of Belo Monte hydroelectric dam in front of the National Congress, in Brasilia, in February. Photograph: Evaristo Sa/Getty, Credit: The Guardian
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View on construction site Credit:
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Meta Information
ContributorFrancisco Alonso Rodríguez
Last update27/02/2017