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Teles Pires Hydroelectric Dam, Mato Grosso - Pará, Brazil


Teles Pires Hydroelectric Dam is located in the Tapajós basin, at the border of the states Pará and Mato Grosso and in proximity of two indigenous territories. Its construction, which was promulgated as part of the national Program for Accelerated Growth (PAC), has harmed biodiversity and fisheries, caused forest clearance, and destroyed an indigenous sacred site. This was no surprise as numerous objections concerning socio-environmental impacts and irregularities in the licensing process were previously raised, but became silenced after political and corporate pressure. The dam was opened in 2016 and has a capacity of 1,820 MW [1][2].

It is the largest of a series of hydropower projects along the Teles Pires river (forming the so-called ‘Complexo Teles Pires’), with other already installed ones being the nearby São Manoel Dam (746 MW – see related conflict) and, further upstream, Sinop Dam (461 MW – see related conflict) and Colíder Dam (342 MW). Further on being planned are Magessi Dam (53MW) in Mato Grosso as well as the Foz do Apiacás Dam (275 MW) and Salto Apiacás Dam (45 MW) on the Apiacás river, a principal affluent of Teles Pires. The dams are part of plans to develop a navigable waterway for soy export from Mato Grosso to the Atlantic Ocean (‘Hidrovia Teles Pires-Tapajós’), as they would allow barges to pass rapids and waterfalls, and a total of 43 large dams planned in the entire Tapajós basin (see the related conflict of the currently stopped São Luiz mega-dam) [3][4][5][6][7]. The dams have been a priority in Brazil’s energy policy as the arrival of industries in the region has subsequently augmented energy demand and prices [2].

Teles Pires Dam was built and is now operated by Companhia Hidrelétrica Teles Pires S.A. (CHTP), which is almost entirely owned by Teles Pires Participações S.A., a consortium formed by the energy company Neoenergia and the state-controlled corporations Eletrosul and Furnas; while also the notorious construction company Odebrecht owns a small share [8][9]. Involved in the assessments was the company Leme Engenharia, which has close links to ENGIE (formerly GDF/Suez) and had previously worked with Odebrecht on other hydro-dams [1].

In 2010, the dam received its first environmental license, following based on impact assessments that were objected by technicians from IBAMA and FUNAI. That led to disputes with the federal government and the public Energy Research Company, responsible for planning Brazil’s energy supply. In 2012, also the Federal Justice pointed to “infringements of constitutional principles of public order, impartiality, and environmental morality”, aiming to immediately halt works on the dam – but a lower court ruling was overturned by the federal government which framed the project as a matter of national security [1][10][11].

Opponents among others criticized that the decision to build the dam was politically motivated and that technical, economic, and environmental viability studies only came after. Experts from universities in Mato Grosso and Pará noted that the studies clearly underestimated environmental and social costs and did not take into account any local knowledge, for example on fisheries and the particular fauna of the Tapajós-Xingu bioregion [1]. The license was also granted without assessing the impacts on the indigenous communities, as the operator simply used the assessment conducted for the nearby São Manoel and Foz do Apiacás dams, where anthropologists spoke out against the constructions [12].

Construction works finished in 2015, despite strong opposition by the Kayabí, Munduruku and Apiaká indigenous groups and traditional communities, who were never consulted – violating Brazil’s obligations of Article 6 in the ILO Convention 169 to guarantee free, prior and informed consultation – even though the dam had clear adverse impacts on their livelihoods, spiritual practices, and way of life. 

Since the early stages of the project, the groups launched protests and issued public statements to express their opposition. This also included collective mobilization of indigenous and other groups against several infrastructural projects in the region, such as the planned Teles Pires-Tapajós waterway, the advancing of São Manoel Dam, and the planned, controversial São Luiz and Jatobá dams [5][6]. In addition, the Federal Public Ministry (MPF) has been initiating multiple lawsuits against the advancing of constructions [1][8][10][11][13]. 

In the case of Teles Pires Dam, indigenous groups especially lamented the destruction of Sete Quedas (locally known as Karobixexé), a waterfall area along the Teles Pires river considered a sacred site by the Kayabí, Apiaká and Munduruku people. The dam operator argued that the area is not used or frequented, even though it has been widely known as a sacred indigenous site that is used for funeral rituals. It received no protection as it is situated just outside the indigenous reserve [1][10][11][14]. Besides dynamiting the site, CHTP also removed indigenous funeral urns, which was presented as a “rescue” by the company but considered as robbery in the eyes of the Munduruku community. In the following, archaeologists removed a total of 270,000 artifacts – which became partly transferred to a local museum to “protect” these [10][14].

Regarding environmental impacts, it was feared that the dam reservoir would produce large amounts of methane from the decomposition of uncleared, flooded organic material. It was estimated that – contrary to legal requirements – only half of the vegetation was removed, leading to massive fish death after the rapid flooding. This would also increase water temperatures and reduce the amount of oxygen, leading to acidification. The dam also impacted fish migration, altogether increasing the vulnerability of fishes, which can now only survive if they managed to reproduce downstream. The Munduruku community lately reported a decline in the fishery and a decrease in water quality, impacting their access to food and water [1][11][12][13][15].

CHTP controversially obtained carbon credits under the UN Clean Development Mechanism and was awarded several sustainability awards, including one by the Chico Mendes International Research and Social Institute, which publicly celebrated the project for its socio-environmental responsibility. Critics however spoke of a catastrophic example of how sustainable development discourses leave out indigenous realms [1]. The dam operator denied a correlation between the dam and increasing deforestation in the municipality of Paranaíta, saying that it had taken all measures to mitigate deforestation and rigorously complied with all obligations [16]. To do so, it had also launched a program to mitigate the impacts on indigenous livelihoods, but leaders of the three affected groups criticized the lack of participation in the initiated activities and flaws in the implementation, for example when it comes to promised improvements in indigenous villages [13].

Communities and civil society organizations in the region have been organizing in the Fórum Teles Pires, a collective network founded in 2010 to defend the rights of those affected by hydropower plants and other large-scale infrastructural projects in the region. It includes indigenous and traditional communities, peasants, fisherfolk and riverside dwellers, academics, civil society organizations such as Comissão Pastoral da Terra, Instituto Centro de Vida, International Rivers and Centro Popular do Audiovisual, and social movements such as the Movimento dos Atingidos por Barragens and the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra [5][6][7][12].

Over the past years, the Munduruku community continued to demand an apology and compensation for the damages to their livelihoods and especially the destruction of Karobixexé and the removal of funeral urns during the construction of the Teles Pires and São Manoel dams. In December 2019, a group of 70 Munduruku – for the third time in three years – held protests in the town of Alta Floresta to demand the return of sacred objects. After several days of protest, the group occupied the Natural History museum to reclaim urns and other artifacts. At the same time, they reported increasing intimidation and surveillance exerted by hydropower companies [10][14][17].

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Teles Pires Hydroelectric Dam, Mato Grosso - Pará, Brazil
State or province:Mato Grosso - Pará
Location of conflict:Paranaíta, Jacareacanga, Alta Floresta
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
Transport infrastructure networks (roads, railways, hydroways, canals and pipelines)
Land acquisition conflicts
Dams and water distribution conflicts
Specific commodities:Land

Project Details and Actors

Project details

Teles Pires Dam has a capacity of 1,820 MW – according to the operator sufficient to supply about 4.5 million people with electricity – and came as part of the Program for Accelerated Growth (PAC; Programa de Aceleração do Crescimento) initiated by Brazil’s federal government. It involved investments of about $4 billion. [14][18] The dam creates an indirect impact on 3,149 square kilometers in the municipalities of Paranaíta (MT), Jacareacanga (PA) and Alta Floresta (MT). [2]

The project operator, Companhia Hidrelétrica Teles Pires S.A. (CHTP), is primarily owned by the Teles Pires Participações S.A. consortium - formed by Neoenergia (part of the Iberdrola group, holding 51% of the shares), Eletrobras-Eletrosul, Eletrobras-Furnas – and, with 0.9% of the shares, by the construction company Odebrecht. [8][9][18] The dam received financing of the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES). Between 2013 and 2017, a mitigation program for indigenous livelihoods, the so-called “Programa Básico Ambiental Indígena”, was implemented and should have served as the principle instrument to compensate the impacts of the project. [13]

Teles Pires Dam is one of four already built hydroelectric projects on the Teles Pires river and a total of 43 dams in the entire Tapajós basin (including the Tapajós, Teles Pires and Juruena rivers and their their tributaries) and plans to develop a navigable waterway to transport soy from Mato Grosso to the Atlantic Ocean (the so-called “Hidrovia Tapajos/Teles Pires” project). [4][7]

Project area:314,900 ha
Level of Investment for the conflictive project4,000,000,000.00
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:80,000
Start of the conflict:2010
Company names or state enterprises:Odebrecht from Brazil
Companhia Hidrelétrica Teles Pires S.A. (CHTP) from Brazil - Operator of UHE Teles Pires
Neoenergia from Brazil
Furnas Centrais Elétricas from Brazil
Eletrosul Centrais Elétricas S/A from Brazil
Leme Engenharia from Brazil - Licensing of the dam
Teles Pires Participações S.A. from Brazil - Consortium owning 99.1% of CHTP, controlled by Neoenergia, Eletrosul and Furnas
Relevant government actors:Brazilian Government
Federal Public Ministry (MPF)
Empresa de Pesquisa Energética (EPE)
Agência Nacional de Energia Elétrica (Aneel)
International and Finance InstitutionsBanco Nacional de Desenvolvimento Econômico e Social (Brasil) (BNDES) from Brazil
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Munduruku community & Movimento Ipereg Ayu
Associação Pahyhy’p, Associação Da’uk, Associação Pariri, Associação Dace
Associação de Defesa Etnoambiental Kanindé
Communities of Montanha and Mangabal

International Rivers
Repórter Brasil
Instituto Centro de Vida (ICV)
Comissão Pastoral da Terra (CPT)
Centro Popular do Audiovisual (CPA)
Movimento dos Atingidos por Barragens (MAB)
Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (MST)
Conselho Indigenista Missionário (CIMI)
Articulação dos Povos Indígenas do Brasil (APIB)
Fórum de Mulheres da Amazonia Paraense (FMAP)
Frente por uma Nova Política Energética para o Brasil (FNPE)
Terra de Direitos
Greenpeace Brasil
WWW Brasil
Amazon Watch

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:International ejos
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Landless peasants
Religious groups
Local ejos
Social movements
Fisher people
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local scientists/professionals
Kayabí, Munduruku and Apiaká groups
Forms of mobilization:Development of a network/collective action
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


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Global warming, Food insecurity (crop damage)
Potential: Air pollution
Health ImpactsVisible: Malnutrition, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Other environmental related diseases
Potential: Accidents, Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..)
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Violations of human rights, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Increase in violence and crime, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Militarization and increased police presence, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Specific impacts on women, Land dispossession


Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Corruption
Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
Strengthening of participation
Proposal and development of alternatives:In released statements, indigenous and other mobilizing groups over the past years among others demanded:
- the demarcation and protection of the Kayabí Indigenous Territory
- rigorous studies of the specific and cumulative impacts of all hydropower and waterway projects in the Tapajós basin on indigenous livelihoods; an independent monitoring of socio-environmental impacts
- a guarantee to indigenous communities to be consulted, according to rights established in ILO Convention 169 and the Brazilian Constitution 1988
- the cancellation of hydroelectric dams that were already under construction
- the establishing of dialogue between government, the private sector and civil society regarding Brazil’s energy policy
- the stop of arbitrarily using “national security” reasons to legitimate human and environmental rights violations in the course of infrastructural project sin the region [6][11]
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No

Sources & Materials

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[4] Fearnside, P. (2015): Amazon dams and waterways: Brazil’s Tapajós Basin plans. In: Ambio, 44/5, pp. 426-439.

[1] Branford, S., Torres, M. (2017): Is Brazil green washing hydropower? The case of the Teles Pires dam. Mongabay, 18.11.2017. [Online, last accessed: 20.07.2020]

[2] Monteiro, T. (2010): A urgência insana de Teles Pires. Entrevista especial com Telma Monteiro. Revista IHU Online, 12.10.2010. [Online, last accessed: 20.07.2020]

[3] Notícia Exacta (2019): Alta Floresta: aprovado projeto de lei que torna Mutirão de limpeza do rio Teles Pires evento oficial. 27.11.2019. [Online, last accessed: 20.07.2020]

[5] Fórum Teles Pires (2018): Show de horrores. Medium, 26.06.2018. [Online, last accessed: 20.07.2020]

[6] ICV (2018): Nota pública denuncia violações a direitos indígenas no Teles Pires. ICV, 22.03.2018. [Online, last accessed: 20.07.2020]

[7] Gámez, L., Mota, C. (2019): Juruena Resiste: Luta histórica por um rio. Le Monde Diplomatique Brasil, 25.06.2019. [Online, last accessed: 20.07.2020]

[8] Mota, J., Mendes, A. (2018): “O governo quer acabar o mundo”, diz líder Munduruku. A Pública, 28.02.2018. [Online, last accessed: 20.07.2020]

[9] BNAmericas (s.a.): Company Profile. Companhia Hidrelétrica Teles Pires S.A.. [Online, last accessed: 20.07.2020]

[10] Loures, R., Branford, S. (2020): Amazon’s Munduruku stage daring Christmas raid to recover sacred urns. Mongabay, 20.02.2020. [Online, last accessed: 20.07.2020]

[11] CIMI (2011): Manifesto kayabi, apiaká e munduruku contra os aproveitamentos hidrelétricos no rio teles pires. ANA, 07.12.2011. [Online, last accessed: 20.07.2020]

[12] Fachin, P. (2017): Complexo hidrelétrico de Teles Pires - entre atropelos e irregularidades, povos indígenas são alijados. Entrevista especial com João Paulo Soares de Andrade e Karla Dilascio. Revista IHU Online, 10.08.2017. [Online, last accessed: 20.07.2020]

[13] Mota, C. (2017): Indígenas denunciam falhas no programa ambiental da usina Teles Pires. Amazônia Real, 30.05.2017. [Online, last accessed: 20.07.2020]

[14] Madeiros, C. (2017): Hidrelétrica inunda cachoeira sagrada, retira urnas indígenas e gera crise espiritual na Amazônia. UOL, 28.07.2017. [Online, last accessed: 20.07.2020]

[15] Olhar Direto (2015): Pesquisador alerta para a mortandade de ‘toneladas’ de peixes na UHE Teles Pires. [Online, last accessed: 20.07.2020]¬icia=pesquisador-alerta-para-a-mortandade-de-toneladas-de-peixes-na-uhe-teles-pires

[16] Respostas de Teles Pires. Repórter Brasil, 28.11.2015. [Online, last accessed: 20.07.2020]

[17] Pinto, Ñ. (2019): En Brasil, indígenas Munduruku ocupan museo para exigir devolución de urnas sagradas. Avispa, 29.12.2019. [Online, last accessed: 20.07.2020]

[18] Neoenergia (2020): Teles Pires. [Online, last accessed: 20.07.2020]

Meta information

Contributor:Max Stoisser
Last update15/09/2020
Conflict ID:4342



Indigenous protest at Teles Pires river in December 2019

Photo credit: Karoribe Munduruku

Location of Teles Pires dam in the Tapajós basin

Image source: Mauricio Torres / Mongabay

Karobixexé before its destruction


A reunion of the Fórum Teles Pires in 2015

Photo redit: Caio Mota

The newly opened Teles Pires dam

Source: UHE Teles Pires

Dead fish in the dam reservoir in 2014

Source: OlharDireto

Munduruku group demanding consultation

Source: Facebook / Munduruku

Munduruku protesting at Teles Pires

Photo credit: Fernanda Morais / Avispa