Belo Monte is a gigantic hyroelectric project on the Xingú River, under construction since 2011 and partly operational since 2015. Til date (begin of 2019), it is still only partly operating. When completed, it will be the third largest hydroelectric producer in the world, with its installed capacity at 11.233 MW. According to the government, the project will cost over US$13 billion. The project is owned by a consortium called Norte Energia, mostly owned by the government, and funded primarily by BNDES. Mining giant Vale owns around 5% of it.
Belo Monte is the most emblematic infrastructure complex of the contentious plan of the Brazilian government to build more than 60 large dams in the Amazon Basin over the next 20 years. The plan has received countless criticisms and open resistance from organizations, públic opinion and inhabitants of the region for the massive destruction in the Amazon it will unavoidably provoke. As International Rivers puts it: “The Amazon will become an endless series of lifeless reservoirs, its life drained away by giant walls of concrete and steel” .
Its construction has been highly conflictive. It was first conceived in 1975 during Brazil’s 1964-1985 military dictatorship , under the name of Complexo Hidrelétrico de Altamira, which included the stations Babaquara and Kararaô. Then, in 1987 the State company Electrobrás presented an ambitious plan to build six big dams on the Xingú river. This was finally stopped thanks to the stiff opposition of indigenous peoples, led by the Kayapos, and funding by the World Bank was finally withdrawn. In 2002, Lula government presented a new version of the project, now called Complexo Hidroeléctrico Belo Monte, which should divert the original curse of the river for 100 km along the Volta Grande.
In 2003, Lula pushed for the authorization of the construction, even without prior consultation with indigenous inhabitants of the region. In 2008 indigenous peoples gatherned in Altamira to show their strong rejection of Belo Monte, along with any other water diversion mega project on the Xingu. They could not stop Belo Monte but obtained in turn that no other big dams be built on the Xingu.
However, Belo Monte was going to trigger immense popular resistance and would be highly questioned for lacking of environmental impact assessments prior the start of the works. In 2009 the EIA was conducted by the construction company itself, Odebrecht, in collaboration of those who would mostly be benefitted by the hydropower plant . A group of scientists strongly criticized the project and the omissions of the EIA in an independent study published as: “PAINEL DE ESPECIALISTAS. Análise Crítica do Estudo de Impacto Ambiental do Aproveitamento Hidrelétrico de Belo Monte” . Despite this, Ibama accepted the EIA but two of its high profile officials quit in sign of protest.
In 2011, the newly elected president Dilma again pushed for contruction work to rapidly advance. As a response, the president of IBAMA also quit the agency in sign of dissent. Unfortunately, he was rapidly replaced and Belo Monte was soon further authorized. Despite critical voices and open criticisms to the project from several human rights organizations and agencies, the government went on in its endevour. Even the denunciation by the federal prosecutor (Ministeiro Publico Federal) for the lack of due compensation of enviropnmetnal and socil impacts could only suspend the project several times, but could not cancel it.
Constructions happened amid land occupation, marches, clashes with workers, etc. The Belo Monte Dam diverted the flow of the Xingu, devastating an extensive area of the Brazilian rainforest, affecting over 50,000 people and displacing over 20,000, and threatening the survival of indigenous tribes that depend on the river.
Electricity would belong to Eletrobras, Brazil’s government controlled electric power company, and a large share of it will be provided to Vale’s mining operations. Moreover, while the project will have an installed capacity of 11,233 MW, according to IR, the dam would be highly inefficient, generating as little as 1000 MW during the 3-4 month low water season . According to Banktrack, “Transmission lines would be constructed to connect Belo Monte with the central grid, meaning that the electricity from Belo Monte could go nearly anywhere in Brazil. But it is most likely to go first to expanding aluminum, iron, and other smelting operations in the Amazon such as Juriti, Carajas, and Paragominas, owned by Alcoa and Vale. The energy would also fuel the powerful industrial sector in southeast Brazil, which consumes 28.6% of all electricity in the country, mainly in São Paulo and Minas Gerais.” .
According to The Guardian, a senior constuction executive has testified that the Belo Monte dam was used to generate USD 41.4 million in donations to the ruling coalition. The ruling Workers party and its former coalition partner, the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, were allegedly paid USD 20 million each by the three construction companies. The companies initially lost the bid to build the Belo Monte, but were later added to the consortium. Although the authorities deny the payments and donations, conservationists and human rights activists state that this explains why the project went ahead regardless of the concers about the environmental and social impact .
Protests against what is renamed “Bello Monstruo”, included occupation of the dam construction site , camps in the nearby city of Altamira , several marches, legal actions, articulation of moviments and indigenous peoples of the river basin, among others.
The main criticisms include the massive destruction of life related to river ecosystem, forced displacement and harassment of indigenous peoples, the promotion of an autoritarian and centrally controlled energy system, unsatisfactory compensation measures, dismissal of indigenous and riberinhos types of life and livelihoods , pro-corporate deals, and heavy social and econòmic impacts on the nearby city of Altamira.
The scientific advocacy organization SBPC authored a 400-page report on the dam’s social impacts which claims that Norte Energia has de facto ended the ribeirinhos’ way of life and means of subsistence. The report states: “With the forced displacement of the ribeirinho communities, they lost their territory, access to the natural environment and resources that they relied on for their livelihood and income, which means that they were robbed of the conditions that guaranteed their social and cultural reproduction … When they were displaced they began to buy practically all foodstuffs, living in a situation (of) food insecurity.” 
Opposition actions to Belo Monte were repressed by the government and targeted by legal actions by the promoting companyies and threatened with fines, often with the complicity of the judiciari system, according to MAB .
According to Mongabay, “Dissent regarding the project’s ongoing development continues today. Local communities, together with legal assistance from international civil society organizations, including the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA), the Brazilian Socio-Environmental Institute (ISA), and Justicia Global, filed final proceedings to a motion originally submitted in 2011 to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) asking for the Belo Monte project to be officially labeled as a Violation of Human Rights. In November, the Commission’s preliminary conclusions found repeated violations . Indigenous communities “suffer from frequent incidents of violence and lack of attention from public services, in addition to increased difficulties and obstacles surrounding claims to their lands,” said Commissioner Antonia Urrejola Noguera, the IACHR Rapporteur for Brazil” .
On May 18, 2015, a group of 500 rural workers were protesting the dam when a car intentionally drove into them, killing Leidiane Drosdoski Machado .
Today, after construction, many of the 25,000 workers have left or are left unemployed in Altamira, a city which remains “desfigurada”, according to Xingu Vivo movement founder, Antonia Mello de Silva, for the high rate of crime and violence.