Partial permit for mega-dam endangers isolated populace


The Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) reacted with dismay to the decision of IBAMA, the enforcement agency of Brazil's Ministry of the Environment, to issue a partial permit for the preliminary construction of an enormous dam on the Xingu River. "This puts a small, isolated populace of indigenous Brazilians in grave danger; these people will not survive contact with the construction workers and other settlers," said the STP-Head of the Indigenous Peoples Section, Yvonne Bangert, on Thursday in Göttingen. "This indigenous community, living in voluntary isolation, needs a safe area of retreat." The IBAMA issued a partial permit on Wednesday to Norte Energia (NESA), the operator consortium of the Belo Monte dam project, to open access roads and initiate forest clearing on construction sites. This, although Norte Energia has not met the social and environmental protection conditions, and moreover, partial construction permits do not exist under environmental protection law in Brazil.

Research by STP employee Rebecca Sommer in Brazil in fall 2010 proved that this project would endanger the indigenous peoples people who live along the Xingu, and one small, isolated populace in particular. The STP, together with the Brazilian Association for Ethno-Environmental Defense, KANINDE, and 11 other non-governmental organizations filed a collective action with the Federal Public Prosecutor's Office (Ministério Publico Federal) at Pará, seeking to stop construction of the Belo Monte dam.

The surprising permission from IBAMA to begin construction was preceded by the resignation of IBAMA's president on 13 January 2011. He had been put under massive pressure by both the Ministry of Mines and Energy and by Brazil's president, Dilma Rousseff, for his critical stance vis-à-vis the mega-dam project.

The indigenous peoples were not properly informed of the effects that this project would have on their livelihood, nor were they asked for their approval of the construction. This puts the Brazilian government in violation of international treaties, according to the STP. The dam would flood an area the size of Lake Constance in Germany, destroying the traditional way of life of some 20,000 indigenous people.

Geologists surmise that there are vast amounts of valuable minerals to be found in many of the Indian reservations surrounding the dam. According to the environmental impact report for the Belo Monte dam project, prepared by the state energy company Eletrobrás, numerous firms have already applied for authorization to search for natural resources on some 63% of the total area of the reservations. The indigenous peoples themselves have neither been informed nor have they consented to any future mining for raw materials in their settlement area.