Brazil: court approves controversial dam construction

A federal court in Brazil ruled Nov. 9 that work on the Belo Monte dam being constructed on the Xingu River in the Amazon rainforest may continue. The Federal Court of the First Region had ordered that dam construction cease until indigenous groups are consulted and given access to environmental impact reports, but the court reversed that decision in a 2-1 vote, upholding the decree issued by Para state authorizing the dam’s construction. Maria do Carmo Cardoso, a court judge, held that the indigenous communities are entitled to be consulted, but the law does not say that this must be done before approval of the work. When completed, the $11 billion, 11,000-megawatt dam will be the world’s third largest behind China’s Three Gorges dam and the Itaipu, which straddles the border of Brazil and Paraguay. The project is expected to employ 20,000 people directly in construction, flood an area of 500 square kilometers (200 square miles) and displace 16,000 persons. Environmentalists and indigenous groups say the dam will devastate wildlife and the livelihoods of as many as 40,000 people who live in the area to be flooded. The government says the dam will provide clean, renewable energy and is essential to fuel Brazil’s growing economy. The federal prosecutor’s office in Para plans to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court.

In September, Malaysia‘s Federal Court unanimously ruled against indigenous people challenging a similar hydroelectric dam. The indigenous people argued that they received inadequate compensation for the Sarawak government’s seizure of their land to build the Bakun Dam. The judges stated that if the plaintiffs were not satisfied with the amount of compensation then that is a matter for arbitration, not for the court.

From Jurist, Nov. 10. Used with permission.

See our last posts on struggles for control of water in Latin America and Asia.