Eye on the Amazon

Victory on the Xingu: Belo Monte Denied Operational License

Victory on the Xingu: Belo Monte Denied Operational License

Recently we asked the international community to take action by urging the Brazilian environmental agency IBAMA to reject the dam-building consortium Norte Energia's request for Belo Monte's operational license. In a stunning victory for social and environmental accountability – and thanks in part to the many thousands of you that took action – it worked! Yesterday's decision by IBAMA effectively paralyzes the mega-project as a result of its egregious legal violations, while sparing the region and the city of Altamira devastating flooding, at least for now.

It's been over five years since the first license was granted for Belo Monte. Despite countless setbacks in the battle to protect this precious region, yesterday's decision is a victory of justice, which should be celebrated by all.

IBAMA technicians needed only to open their eyes and assess the spiraling chaos that Belo Monte is wreaking on the Xingu River and its people. More importantly, the recent chorus of voices emanating from local organizations and their national and international supporters undoubtedly swayed the institution to do the right thing. As Belo Monte's flooding appeared imminent, dozens of campaigns including Amazon Watch's own, called on IBAMA to halt licensing, demonstrating the tenacious power of the Xingu Alive Forever Movement (MXVPS) and its allies around the world.

According to reports, IBAMA based its judgment on careful analysis of a series of compulsory socio-environmental measures that Norte Energia (NESA) must fulfill prior to obtaining permission – which comes in the form of an operational license – in order to flood Belo Monte's reservoir and begin producing electricity. Anticipating approval of a license by mid-September, NESA scrambled to prepare the region for a vast flood, razing entire neighborhoods in Altamira without first guaranteeing suitable compensation – including housing – for displaced people, and by clearcutting over 400 islands of the Xingu's rich forests so as to submerge them in a stagnant reservoir. Yet the consortium's hopes were dashed this week as the reality of its criminal irresponsibilities was publicly acknowledged.

Explaining IBAMA's decision, licensing director Thomaz Miazaki cited "pending obligations" that remain unfulfilled by the consortium. These obligations include ensuring basic sanitation, health, and resettlement projects are completed, in addition to the construction of a series of bridges that would allow displaced peoples to cross the dam's artificial waterways once it floods huge swaths of the region's lowlands.

This eleventh hour decision presents NESA and its champions in the Dilma Rousseff government with a serious dilemma – complying with long-flouted obligations to mitigate Belo Monte's disastrous impacts will not only be highly costly, but could also continue to delay the project for months. Meanwhile, the wanton impunity to which NESA has grown accustomed has suffered a major blow given that IBAMA has finally upheld its role as an institution that safeguards basic Brazilian environmental and social standards.

This decision must not be ignored by governmental leaders as they have done previously. No matter what happens, we'll continue to stand strong with our indigenous allies on the ground who demand justice. Whatever lies ahead, today Xinguanos celebrate the triumph of accountability over impunity. Xingu Vivo Para Sempre!

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