Brazilian Judge Approves the Belo Monte Dam

Brazil's Indigenous people need not be consulted on the Belo Monte dam complex, says judge, leaving campaigners saddened and "surprised".

After years of protest and legal battle, the construction of the Belo Monte dam has received approval from the district federal court in Brazil.

The hydroelectric project, which has been in planning for some 20 years, has sparked much controversy throughout the country. If built, the 11,000 megawatt dam would cut through the Xingu River at the heart of Amazon rainforest, affecting thousands of Indigenous people.

In addition, campaigners say that Belo Monte would destroy wildlife and countless communities who survive off small fishing businesses.

Nonetheless, on Wednesday, Judge Maria do Carmo Cardoso ruled that construction could and should go ahead. She also claimed that there was no need for prior consultations with Indigenous communities and dismissed arguments from conservation groups.

The federal prosecutors' office said they were "surprised" with the ruling.

In a statement released on Thursday they said: "All the studies made arrive at the same conclusion: the dam will provoke drastic changes in the food chain and livelihood of the Indigenous communities."

After the ruling, The Fresh Outlook spoke to Caroline Bennett, a communications officer at Amazon Watch – a non-profit organisation working to protect the rainforest and advance the rights of Indigenous people in the Amazon Basin:

"This is an extremely unfortunate decision that clearly denies Indigenous people's rights to free, prior and informed consent in Brazil.

"If Belo Monte is built, over 100 km of the river at the Big Bend will be diverted and dried up. The river is life. They [Indigenous communities] depend on the river for fishing, drinking and bathing.

"The river is their economy. The river is their road."

In response to national and international campaigns, the Brazilian government says the dam is essential the country's growth and would improve its ability to produce clean, renewable energy.

Brazil already obtains 80% of its electricity from 450 hydroelectric dams and authorities plan to construct 60-70 more complexes within the next 20 years.

However, Ms Bennett argues that the increasing the number of dams throughout the country is making Brazil "highly vulnerable, given the likelihood of increasingly frequent droughts due to climate change".

She also maintained that hydroelectric dams "cause significant methane emissions" and "irreparably harm forest and river ecosystems".

Amazon Watch, alongside other conservation campaigners, point to other energy sources available to the government.

"[Brazil's] wind energy is expected to increase from 1,000 MW in 2010 to 12,000 MW by 2020," said Ms Bennett, explaining the benefits of solar and wind energy.

She added that alternative energy sources, as well as the decentralisation of a "renewable power generation is economically viable and could easily account for 20-30% of the country's electricity by 2020.

"Such a shift has the potential to create 8 million new jobs, far more than the Belo Monte Dam.

Anti-Belo Monte Dam protests have attracted the attention of many major celebrities such as film director James Cameron and actress Sigourney Weaver. They have also captured the international media – no more so than last month, when 600 Indigenous people occupied the construction site.

Campaigners were quickly moved by authorities after a judge issued an eviction order.

If the multi-million dollar project goes ahead, Belo Monte will be the world's third largest dam and federal prosecutors are now considering whether to take their appeal to Brazil's Supreme Court as they continue their fight against the hydroelectric project.

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