The courts on 28 September 2011 once again ruled in favour of opponents to the construction of the giant Belo Monte hydroelectric plant on the Xingu River, in the state of Pará (northern Brazil). Critics of the 30-year old project have waged a fierce legal battle since August 2010, when then-president Luiz Inaçio “Lula” da Silva gave the green light for construction to begin.
Opposition this time came from breeders and exporters of ornamental fish in Altamira, a municipality situated on the Xingu River, who allege that the plant’s construction will wipe out the main species of fish in the region. With a planned installed capacity of 11,200 megawatts, and an estimated price tag of $11 billion, the Belo Monte Dam is set to become the world’s third largest hydroelectric dam complex, after the Three Gorges Dam in China and the Itaipu Dam on the border between Brazil and Paraguay.
The dam is expected to generate 11% of the country’s electricity, and forms part of the government’s strategy to sustain the nation’s strong economic growth. But its environmental and social impact – a 500km² zone will be flooded and 16,000 families displaced – continues to draw widespread indignation across the world. The native Indian chief Raoni, who is a figurehead for the indigenous tribes inhabiting the Amazon rainforest, declared to the United Nations on behalf of his people that, “the forest is their livelihood and the river their market”.
Source: Au Brésil, la justice ordonne de nouveau l’arrêt de la construction du barrage de Belo Monte, Le Monde, October 2011.
(translated from French by Wolf Draeger)