Brazil: judge suspends Teles Pires dam, upholds indigenous rights

A Brazilian federal judge on March 30 suspended the construction license of the Teles Pires hydroelectric dam in the Amazon rainforest, saying the permitting process violated the riights of the Kayabi, Apiaká and Mundurucu indigenous peoples. Judge Celia Regina Ody Bernardes in Mato Grosso state sided with public prosecutors from the states of Mato Grosso and Pará, who argued the dam would cause “imminent and irreversible damage to the quality of life and cultural heritage of indigenous peoples of the region.” The dam would flood a series of rapids on the Rio Teles Pires known as Sete Quedas (Seven Waterfalls), a fish spawning grounds of great importance to the indigenous residents. A declaration by indigenous peoples cited in the lawsuit states, “Sete Quedas is a sacred place, where the Mae dos Peixes [Mother of Fish] and other spirits of our ancestors live.” The judge ordered the immediate suspension of all construction activities at the site, “especially explosions of boulders in the region of Sete Quedas.”

The 1,820-megawatt capacity dam has been under construction since August 2011 on the Rio Teles Pires, a major tributary of the Tapajos River in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon. The dam is one of six large hydropower projects planned for the Rio Teles Pires, which forms the border between the states of Mato Grosso and Pará.

In her decision, Judge Bernardes concluded that prior to greenlighting dam construction, the federal environmental agency IBAMA failed to consult with affected indigenous communities, despite serious threats to their “socioeconomic and cultural well-being.” She ruled that this constitutes a violation of the Brazilian constitution and ILO Convention 169, which Brazil signed in 2004.

Other threats to indigenous peoples related to dam construction include conflicts associated with a massive influx of migrants to the region, land speculation, illegal deforestation, and illegal exploitation of mining resources. Prosecutors argued that, given a delay of almost 20 years in the demarcation of the Kayabi territory, such threats are even more severe. (ENS, April 5; Power Engineering, April 4)

Similar arguments have been raised in the case of the Belo Monte dam, which remains under construction.

See our last posts on Brazil and the struggle for the Amazon.

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