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São Luiz do Tapajós hydroelectric dam, Brazil

Strong opposition, legal flaws and demarcation of land by indigenous communities led to the cancellation of the first of the dam projects on the Tapajós river. Big victory for environmental justice now challenges the future of other projects.


On Tapajós river, two major hydroelectric dams are currently under study; São Luiz do Tapajós and Jatobá dams would have respectively a capacity of 6,133 MW and 2,338MW, for a total installed capacity of around 8,500 MW. The Brazilian government plans to invest 18 billion reals (around 5.3 billion US dollars). As one of the central elements of the government’s project to expand hydroelectric power generation across the Amazon, the 8,000-megawatt São Luiz do Tapajós dam is slated to be Brazil’s second largest, after the controversial Belo Monte power plant, which finally began operating in April 2016. Together, the dams would flood 198,400 hectares of land along the Tapajós, including large portions of the Amazonia and Juruena National Parks and the Itaituba National Forests. These dams would have significant impacts on indigenous lands and communities throughout the Amazon, including the Munduruku, Apiaká de Pimental, Akaybãe, Remédio, Sai Cinza, São Martinho and Boca do Igarapé Pacu. Apart from the two major dams, other projects are currently under study on the same river, Jamanxim (881 MW), Cachoeira do Caí (802 MW) and Cachoeira dos Patos (528 MW), Chocorão (3336 MW) e Jardim do Ouro (227 MW). In total, at least 40 more projects are on the way along the river, considered to be the "last frontier" of hydro expansion in the Amazon. Env. Impact Assessments are being carried out by a consortium called “Grupo de Estudos Tapajós”, made up by national companies like Eletrobras, Eletronorte, Cemig, Copel, Camargo Corrêa, and transnational corporations like EDF, GDF SUEZ, Endesa Brasil and Neoenergia (Iberdrola). According to Greenpeace, "the government’s Growth Acceleration Programme (PAC) aims to transform the Tapajós River into an industrial waterway and shipping hub, with the ultimately goal of allowing soybeans produced in Mato Grosso to be shipped to the Atlantic Ocean and onward to foreign consumer markets" [1]. Greenpeace also commissioned an independent analysis of the EIA report prepared by CNEC Worley Parsons Engenharia S. A.1 on behalf of the Grupo de Estudos Tapajós, one of the two consortia currently expected to bid for the contract for the dam. The review found lots of flaws in the process and argued that the public "report on the EIA (known as a RIMA), rather than being a balanced document that could help stakeholders and the general public make up their minds about the proposals, was in effect “a marketing tool that fails to inform society, in an objective manner, about the consequences of the project and minimizes predicted impacts” [2] These dams were planned when the government expected a rise in energy demand based on growth of 4% a year; however, in 2015 GDP shrank by 3.8% and the projections for 2016 indicate a similar drop, so today it seems that an important obstacle for dam expansion in the Amazon is economic. Moreover, the political crisis currently ongoing in Brazil (June 2016), represents a time of instability and uncertainty of what is going to happen next. Added to this uncertainty, a strategic development law, known as PLS 654/2015, is currently being debated in the senate. If approved, it could significantly accelerate the licensing process, by reducing the environmental protections enshrined in Brazilian law, and eliminating the requirement for public consultation [3].  With an estimated population of 12,000 people spread across 128 villages, the Munduruku are the most numerous indigenous group in the region where the SLT hydropower dam is planned. Other indigenous groups also live in the region, as well as some 2,500 traditional riverside dwellers (ribeirinhos), along with more recent settlers and urban residents. The dam would flood a vast area, requiring the forced removal of at least some indigenous communities, an act that is strictly prohibited by the Brazilian constitution except in cases of disease epidemics or war. Women are also going to bear specific threats to their livelihood and lives, especially due to sell off of land by men, by the in-migration of outsiders for working in the construction sites, the lack of electricity or its high bills [5]. Much of the SLT dam site lies within the territory of the Munduruku people, and the dam will inundate around 7 % of their Sawré Muybu land, including a number of their sacred sites – despite their inalienable rights to their traditional territories and their persistent efforts to have these territories officially demarcated. The Greenpeace report also states that "Although the 1988 Federal Constitution forbids the removal of indigenous groups from their land except in the case of a disaster or in the interests of national sovereignty, the report of the EIA commissioned by the Grupo de Estudos Tapajós ignores this, while quoting a law dating back to the days of the military dictatorship to the effect that “the federal government can intervene in indigenous areas to carry out public works of interest to national development.” It also relies on a discredited map (used a decade ago in an attempted corporate land grab, since thrown out by the courts) to downplay the extent of ribeirinho community land ownership in the area to be flooded." It also warns about other impacts of the projects, such as the increase of mining operations in the area favored by the new roads, and out migration to the closest bigger cities like Itaituba.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:São Luiz do Tapajós hydroelectric dam, Brazil
State or province:Pará
Location of conflict:Itaituba
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Water Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Dams and water distribution conflicts
Specific commodities:Land
Project Details and Actors
Project details

São Luiz do Tapajós

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Project area:72,900 (submergence area)
Level of Investment for the conflictive project5,300,000,000
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:10,000
Company names or state enterprises:Centrais Elétricas do Norte do Brasil S/A (Eletronorte) from Brazil
Electrobras from Brazil
Construções e Comércio Camargo Côrrea S/A from Brazil
EDF Consultoria em Projetos de Geração de Energia Ltda from Brazil
Electricité de France International (EDF) from France
Siemens from Germany - provision of the technology for hydroelectric dams
Relevant government actors:Brazilian Ministry of the Environment
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Associação Comunitária dos Pescadores e Moradores de Pimental
Comissão Pastoral da Terra (CPT)
Sindicatos dos Trabalhadores e Trabalhadoras Rurais de Itaituba e Aveiro
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Industrial workers
Informal workers
International ejos
Social movements
Trade unions
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Local scientists/professionals
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Land occupation
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Street protest/marches
Arguments for the rights of mother nature
Demarcation of land
Environmental ImpactsPotential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Soil erosion, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Health ImpactsPotential: Malnutrition, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution, Deaths
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Specific impacts on women
Potential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Increase in violence and crime, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Militarization and increased police presence, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Other socio-economic impactsMulheres do Movimento dos Atingidos por Barragens denounce violations and impacts on women.
Project StatusPlanned (decision to go ahead eg EIA undertaken, etc)
Conflict outcome / response:Land demarcation
Strengthening of participation
Under negotiation
Project cancelled
Proposal and development of alternatives:Demarcation of land for Munduruku people and other communities. The Munduruku have done their own land demarcation process.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Yes
Briefly explain:By April 2016 it seems that the project has been suspended by the intervention of the Funai.
UPDATE: 04.08.16 - Ibama, Brazil’s environmental agency has denied an environmental license for the proposed 8,000-megawatt São Luiz do Tapajós dam on the Tapajós River in the Amazon — a decision seen as a victory by the Munduruku Indians and environmentalists.
However, the decision will not likely end controversy in the region. The Brazilian government has major development plans for the Tapajós river basin, including 43 dams on the Tapajós River and its tributaries, ten of which are considered priority, to be completed by 2022.
Sources & Materials
References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

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Greenpeace, Barragens do rio Tapajós: uma avaliação crítica do Estudo e Relatório de Impacto Ambiental (EIA/RIMA) do Aproveitamento Hidrelétrico São Luiz do Tapajós
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[2] Greenpeace - EIA/RIMA do Tapajós: um jogo de cartas marcadas
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[4] Greenpeace - Protecting the Amazon, side by side with the Munduruku
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[5] MAB - Mulheres fortalecem resistência ao complexo Tapajós
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[6] Mongabay - Environmental licence for São Luiz do Tapajós hydroelectric dam denied
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Dams-info on Sao Luiz do Tapajos dam
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Blog in support of the dams -
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International Rivers - Brazil Suspends Licensing of Controversial Amazon Dam

Wednesday, April 20, 2016
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Report in The Guardian, 22 April 2016, by Bruce Douglas. Brazil Amazon dam project suspended over concerns for indigenous people. Licensing process for São Luiz do Tapajós dam stalled after Funai report demarcated Sawré Muybu land around river, where Munduruku people live
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Meta information
Contributor:Daniela Del Bene, ICTA - UAB
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:2336
Legal notice / Aviso legal
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