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Belo Monte hydroelectric dam, Para, Brasil


Description

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” [1].

Its construction has been highly conflictive. It was first conceived in 1975 during Brazil’s 1964-1985 military dictatorship [2], 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thanks to the stiff opposition of indigenous peoples, led by the Kayapos, and funding by the World Bank was finally withdrawn.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 [3]. 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” [4]. 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 [1]. 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.” [5].

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 [6].

Protests against what is renamed “Bello Monstruo”, included occupation of the dam construction site [7], camps in the nearby city of Altamira [8], 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 [7], 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.” [9]

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 [10].

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 [11]. 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” [12]

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.

Basic Data

NameBelo Monte hydroelectric dam, Para, Brasil
CountryBrazil
ProvincePara state
SiteAltamira
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level

Source of Conflict

Type of Conflict (1st level)Water Management
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Water access rights and entitlements
Dams and water distribution conflicts
Land acquisition conflicts
Specific CommoditiesWater
Electricity
Land

Project Details and Actors

Project DetailsBelo Monte comprises:

Two dams — one to house the turbines, and another with floodgates to restore the remaining flow to the lower Xingu River

Two reservoirs — one in the Xingu riverbed, and the other on dry land

516 sq km would be flooded, but in all 1,522 sq km would be affected

One massive canal — 500 meters wide, and a series of dykes to transfer the water from the Xingu to the artificial canals

20,000–40,000 to be displaced (some estimate up to 50,000 in the long run)

Cost: according to the government it is around US$ 13 billion, but some estimate it will be over US$16 billion.

For details on investments up to 2017, see Banktrack [5]
Project Area (in hectares)150,000 [1]
Level of Investment (in USD)13,000,000,000
Type of PopulationRural
Potential Affected Population20,000-50,000
Start Date1975
Company Names or State EnterprisesNorte Energia Consortium from Brazil - builds and operates
Centrais Elétricas do Norte do Brasil S/A (Eletronorte) from Brazil
Alstom from France - Alstom signed a EUR 500 million contract with Norte Energia to provide power equipment. In February 2014 it was negotiating a contract to deliver equipment for the transmission lines. [5]
Constructura Andrade Gutierrez S.A. (AG) from Brazil - Andrade Gutierrez is part of the Belo Monte Construction Consortium (CCBM).
Andritz Group from Austria
Arcadis from Norway - Arcadis has signed a deal worth USD 146 million with Norte Energia S.A. to provide owner’s engineering services. The Norway-based consulting, design, engineering and management services company will carry out its work via its Brazilian subsidiary, Arcadis Logos, and joins Themag, Concremat and Engecorps as part of a consortium.
Camargo Corrêa S.A from Brazil - Camargo Corrêa is part of the Belo Monte Construction Consortium (CCBM).
Companhia Energética de Minas Gerais (CEMIG) from Brazil - Cemig and Light hold a 9.77% stake in the Norte Energia Consortium under the name Amazônia. Companhia Hidro Eletrica do Sao Francisco (CHESF) Brazil CHESF holds a 15% stake in the Norte Energia Consortium.
Centrais Elétricas Brasileiras S/A (Eletrobrás) from Brazil - Eletrobras holds a 15% stake in the Norte Energia Consortium. Eletronorte Brazil Eletronorte holds a 19.98% stake in the Norte Energia Consortium.
Iberdrola from Spain
Odebrecht from Brazil
Vale (Vale) from Brazil
International and Financial InstitutionsThe World Bank - The World Bank disbursed an Environmental Development Policy Loan (SEM DPL) to the government of Brazil, with multiple objectives. One of them was to institute a social and environmental safeguards policy at BNDES, including a sectoral policy on dams. The sectoral policy was never adopted by the board, and BNDES never instituted a broad safeguards policy. Instead, the bank only adopted three sectoral policies on cattle, sugar-alcohol, and emissions from thermoelectric plants [5]
Banco Nacional de Desenvolvimento Econômico e Social (BNDES) from Brazil
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersIndigenous groups (Munduruku in the Tapajós and Xikrin, Araras, Kayapós and Jurunas in the Xingú), Movimento dos Atingidos por Represas (MAB), Movimiento Xingú Vivo para Siempre (MXVPS), Survival International, Amazon Watch, CPTnacional, Instituto Socioambiental, Brazilian Indigenous Communities Organization (APIB), International Rivers, Amigos da Terra-Amazonia Brasileira, FASE, CIMI, Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA)

The Conflict and the Mobilization

Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)HIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
When did the mobilization beginPREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups MobilizingFarmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Landless peasants
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Social movements
Trade unions
Women
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Local scientists/professionals
Religious groups
indigenous groups include Juruna, Xikrín, Arara, Xipaia, Kuruaya and Kayapó, among others
Fisher people
Forms of MobilizationArtistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Blockades
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Land occupation
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
Arguments for the rights of mother nature
La oposición al proyecto es también muy mediatizada gracias al jefe aborigen Raoni, al cantante Sting o al realizador James Cameron.

Impacts

Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Desertification/Drought, Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Food insecurity (crop damage), Global warming, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, 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 ImpactsVisible: Accidents, 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 landscape/sense of place, Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Increase in violence and crime, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Militarization and increased police presence, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Specific impacts on women, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession

Outcome

Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCompensation
Corruption
Criminalization of activists
Migration/displacement
Violent targeting of activists
Do you consider this as a success?No
Why? Explain briefly.Despite all evidences of impacts, the project was built and generated severe corruption, violence and distress.

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 operación pero solo parcialmente.

Sources and Materials

References

Hall, A., & Branford, S. (2012). Development, dams and Dilma: the saga of Belo Monte. Critical Sociology, 38(6), 851-862.
https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0896920512440712

de Sousa Júnior, W. C., & Reid, J. (2010). Uncertainties in Amazon hydropower development: Risk scenarios and environmental issues around the Belo Monte dam. Water Alternatives, 3(2).
http://www.water-alternatives.org/index.php/allabs/92-a3-2-15/file

Fearnside, PM (2002) Greenhouse gas emissions from a hydroelectric reservoir (Brazil’s Tucuruí dam) and the energy implications. Water, Air and Soil Pollution 133(1/4): 69–96.

[4] PAINEL DE ESPECIALISTAS, 2009. Análise Crítica do Estudo de Impacto Ambiental do Aproveitamento Hidrelétrico de Belo Monte
https://www.socioambiental.org/banco_imagens/pdfs/Belo_Monte_Painel_especialistas_EIA.pdf

[3] Estudio de Impacto Ambiental (EIA) de Belo Monte
http://restrito.norteenergiasa.com.br/site/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/NE.Rima_.pdf

[2] Fearnside, P. M. (2006). Dams in the Amazon: Belo Monte and Brazil’s hydroelectric development of the Xingu River Basin. Environmental management, 38(1), 16.
https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00267-005-0113-6

[9] A expulsão de ribeirinhos em Belo Monte: relatório da SBPC

Sônia Barbosa Magalhães, Manuela Carneiro da Cunha

(Orgs.). – São Paulo: SBPC, 2017.

448 p. : il.
http://portal.sbpcnet.org.br/livro/belomonte.pdf

Links

[6] The Guardian -

Brazil: insider claims Rousseff coalition took funds from Belo Monte mega-dam

J.Watts

Fri 8 Apr 2016 20.51 BST
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/apr/08/brazil-rousseff-corruption-belo-monte-dam?CMP=share_btn_tw

[1] Página de International Rivers dedicada a Belo Monte
https://www.internationalrivers.org/campaigns/belo-monte-dam

[5] Banktrack

Belo Monte dam Brazil
https://www.banktrack.org/project/belo_monte_dam/pdf

Tuira Kayapó: The woman who fought back a dam
https://www.rejectedprincesses.com/blog/modern-worthies/tuira-kayapo

[11] Inter-American Commission urges Brazil to address damages to indigenous peoples caused by Belo Monte Dam
https://aida-americas.org/en/press/inter-american-commission-urges-brazil-address-damages-to-indigenous-peoples-caused-by-belo-monte

[7] Mongabay - Displaced by Brazil’s giant Belo Monte hydroelectric dam, ‘river people’ reoccupy reservoir

by Maximo Anderson on 13 March 201
https://news.mongabay.com/2017/03/displaced-by-brazils-giant-belo-monte-hydroelectric-dam-river-people-reoccupy-reservoir/

[8] Desinformemonos - Belo Monte: El Bello Monstruo de la biodiversidad y de las poblaciones tradicionales de la Amazonia

Texto Christiane Peres Fotos Verena Glass Y Antonio Cruz/ABr Traducción: Waldo Lao Fuentes Sánchez

1 septiembre 2010
https://desinformemonos.org/belo-monte-el-bello-monstruo-de-la-biodiversidad-y-de-las-poblaciones-tradicionales-de-la-amazonia/

[10] MAB - Consorcio de Belo Monte prohíbe a los afectados por represas manifestarse

19/03/2013
http://www.mabnacional.org.br/noticia/consorcio-belo-monte-proh-be-los-afectados-por-represas-manifestarse

[12] Mongabay - Belo Monte dam Xingu River Management Plan violates human rights: finding

by Max Nathanson on 10 December 2018
https://news.mongabay.com/2018/12/belo-monte-dam-xingu-river-management-plan-violates-human-rights-finding/

[13] International Rivers fact sheet for Belo Monte
https://www.internationalrivers.org/sites/default/files/attached-files/Belo_Monte_FactSheet_May2012.pdf

Media Links

Documentário ‘Belo Monte: Depois da Inundação’, by Todd Southgate – Brent
http://www.correiocidadania.com.br/meio-ambiente/12430-documentario-belo-monte-depois-da-inundacao-ganha-download-gratuito

Other Documents

Map of Belo Monte Source: https://www.internationalrivers.org/campaigns/belo-monte-dam
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/BR_belo_monte_map_2012.jpg

Tuíra protesting against Eletronorte director, 1989 A índia Tuíra, que ficou conhecida em 1989 por encostar um facão no rosto do então diretor da Eletronorte, José Antonio Muniz Lopes
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/Tuira.jpg

Sting and Raoni kayapó leader
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/sting-e-raoni.jpg

Kayapo indigenous leader Raoni Kayapo indigenous leader Raoni displays an international petition against the Belo Monte dam which he took to Europe seeking support. In 2015, charges were made against the Brazilian government and Norte Energia, the construction consortium, accusing both of committing ethnocide against seven Xingu River indigenous groups. Photo by Gert-Peter Bruch licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/BRA_BeloMonte_RAONI_et_sa_pétition_internationale_contre_le_barrage.jpg

Protest of the Kayapó tribes 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
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/protesta.jpg

Meta Information

ContributorDaniela Del Bene, ICTA-UAB
Last update25/02/2019

Images

 

Sting and Raoni kayapó leader

 

Tuíra protesting against Eletronorte director, 1989

A índia Tuíra, que ficou conhecida em 1989 por encostar um facão no rosto do então diretor da Eletronorte, José Antonio Muniz Lopes

Protest of the Kayapó tribes

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