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Timeline of the Controversial Belo Monte Megadam in Brazil

Mark Sabaj PérezOct 14, 2015

2015-11SabajPerez_inset.jpgClick to Enlarge ImageEditor’s Note: In our November–December issue, ichthyologist Mark Sabaj Pérez writes about the biodiversity and hydrology of the Xingu River, and the anticipated homogenizing effects of the Belo Monte megadam slated to go into operation there. The complicated history of controversy surrounding the dam is enumerated chronologically below. We will continue to update this timeline through the dam’s operation. (Jump to: Updates.) Belo Monte is being built by Norte Energia, a consortium of 18 partners including parastatal power utility Eletrobrás and its subsidiary Eletronorte. The environmental licensing process, which is currently ongoing and has been fraught with legal battles, includes four stages: the presentation of process, the preliminary license, the installation license, and the operating license.


1975

Eletronorte, subsidiary of parastatal power utility Eletrobrás, contracts National Association of Consulting Engineers (CNEC of Camargo Corrêa Group) to evaluate hydropotential of the Xingu River.

December

1979

CNEC inventory completed, identifying five potential dam sites on the Xingu, including Kararaô and Babaquara, and one on its tributary, the Iriri, that together would flood an estimated 18,300 square kilometers, including indigenous lands.


1980

The first stage of feasibility studies for the Xingu dams begins (and continues through October 11, 1989).

August 31,

1981

Law 6938 establishes the National Environmental Policy (PNMA) and legally defines the environment as “the set of physical, chemical and/or biological conditions, laws, influences and interactions that facilitates, shelters and governs life in all of its forms." This policy enables the Brazilian Federal Public Ministry (MPF) to institute criminal and civil liability proceedings for damages to the environment.

July 24,

1985

Public Civil Action Law (Law 7347) permits MPF to litigate in defense of collective and diffuse interests, including those concerning damages to the environment. The statute, referred to as the “Brazilian class action,” is considered to be a radical transformation in Brazilian legal order and held up as a model for other civil law countries.

January 23,

1986

The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Report (RIMA) effectively incorporated into the licensing process for all major infrastructure projects such as hydroelectric dams.

December

1987

Eletrobrás’s National Plan for Energy 1987–2010 officially released, listing 297 dams to be built throughout Brazil (although the plan was previously leaked to the public in March 1987).

March

1988

Kayapó chiefs and Darrell Posey, an American ethnobiologist, present a case against the Xingu dams to the World Bank in Washington, DC; the World Bank suspends the full disbursement of a $500 million loan to build Xingu dams.

July–August

1988

Darrell Posey and the Kayapó chiefs face criminal charges under a law prohibiting non-Brazilians from interfering in Brazil's internal affairs (the cases were later dropped in February 1989).

August

1988

The Brazilian Department of Waters and Electric Energy (DNAEE) approves 1979 CNEC inventory (Ordinance number 43), and the Brazilian Ministry of Mines and Energy (MME) authorizes Eletronorte to conduct feasibility studies for the Xingu dams (Ordinance Number 1077).

October 5,

1988

Brazil’s new Constitution is the first in the country’s history to include the environment as a separate concept, specifically an autonomous juridical entity, affirming that all Brazilians have the right to an ecologically balanced environment, an asset of common use and essential to a healthy quality of life. Both the Government and community have a duty to defend and preserve the environment for present and future generations (Article 225). This legislation requires Congress to consult with indigenous peoples before authorizing use of water resources, including hydropower, on their lands (Article 231) and expands the power of the MPF to enforce environmental laws (Articles 5, 23, 24, and 129).

February 19–24,

1989

The First Meeting of Indigenous Peoples of the Xingu in Altamira is held, led by the Kayapó and Darrell Posey, attended by about 3,000 people, including government officials, environmentalists, journalists, and the musician Sting (this attention is considered a socioenvironmentalism milestone in Brazil). Tuíra, a Kayapó woman, lays her machete against the face of José Antônio Muniz Lopes, then Eletronorte's Chief Engineer and later President of Eletrobrás, and becomes a global icon for indigenous hostility toward Xingu dams. Eletronorte abandons the name Kararaô, the Kayapó word for "war cry."

February 22,

1989

Law 7735 creates Brazil’s Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA) to enforce federal environmental laws and international treaties with environmental content.

October 11,

1989

Eletronorte submits the final report on the first stage of feasibility studies for the Xingu dams to DNAEE for review and approval, the latter withheld.

June

1993

DNAEE and Eletrobrás sign an agreement to analyze plans for the Xingu dams and improve economic, sociopolitical, and environmental viability.

November 25,

1994

DNAEE creates a workgroup (Ordinance number 769) composed of itself, Eletronorte, and Eletrobrás to further improve economic, sociopolitical, and environmental viability of the Xingu dams. The dams are then reconfigured to eliminate flooding of the indigenous lands of Paquiçamba.

January 8,

1997

Brazilian Law 9433 establishes the National Water Resources Policy and enshrines principles for water use and management to be guided by hydrographic basins (watersheds) as planning units (nine are recognized).

February 12,

1998

Brazil’s Environmental Crimes Law (Law 9605) is approved despite strong political opposition. The legal regulation of the environment is to be enforced through administrative, civil, and criminal law.

March

1998

Eletrobrás’s Decennial Plan 1999–2008 reveals that Babaquara and Kararaô dams have been renamed Altamira and Belo Monte, respectively; five other dams from the 1979 CNEC inventory disappear from public discourse, although Electronorte engineers maintain activities at those sites.

October

1999

Brazil’s MME authorizes the 1994 reconfiguration of the Xingu dams, now officially named the Belo Monte Hydroelectric Complex.

June

2000

A report by Electrobrás, Eletronorte, and the Electric Power Research Center (CEPEL) confirms the attractiveness of Belo Monte and recommends the continuation of technical, economic, and environmental feasibility studies to begin dam operations by March 31, 2008.

September

2000

Eletronorte applies for an environmental license for Belo Monte with SECTAM, the environmental authority of Brazil’s Pará State.

October

2000

Eletronorte signs a no-bid $1.3 million contract with FADESP, a private foundation linked to Universidade Federal do Pará (UFPA), to conduct the EIA/RIMA.

December

2000

Eletrobrás and Eletronorte sign a cooperative agreement to develop the second stage of feasibility studies.

May 15,

2001

MPF files a lawsuit against Eletronorte and FADESP over their no-bid contract, the lack of SECTAM's authority to issue an environmental license, and the lack of consultation with affected indigenous peoples. This is the first of 22 lawsuits against Belo Monte filed by MPF as of mid-2014.

May 29,

2001

Judge Rubens Rollo d'Oliveira of the 3° Federal Court of Belém upholds MPF lawsuit, suspends EIA/RIMA by FADESP

July 1,

2001

The federal government begins rationing electricity in response to the blackout crisis, due in part to water shortage for hydroelectricity.

August 25,

2001

Ademir Alfeu Federicci ("Dema"), vocal coordinator of the local resistance movement (MDTX) protesting the construction of Belo Monte, is assassinated.

September 17,

2001

Brazil’s National Council for Energy Policy (CNPE) recognizes Belo Monte as a strategic interest for hydroelectricity expansion by 2010.

November

2001

A judge from Brazil’s Tribunal Federal Court of the First Region (TRF1) upholds Judge d'Oliveira's suspension of the EIA/RIMA by FADESP.

February 28,

2002

Electrobrás and Eletronorte submit a final report on the second stage of feasibility studies to the Brazilian Electric Energy Regulatory Agency (ANEEL) (excluding the EIA/RIMA due to court injunction). Plans are introduced for a run-of-the-river design with three dams: Pimental to create the Xingu channel reservoir, Belo Monte to receive water from the off-stream reservoir fed by two canals diverting water from the in-stream reservoir, and Bela Vista to help contain the off-stream reservoir. The planned reservoirs are to flood 440 square kilometers, of which 200 are flooded annually during the Xingu's high water season. Indigenous lands are excluded from these flooded areas.

July 25,

2002

The Brazilian Senate ratifies the International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention Number 169, dealing specifically with the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples. This treaty is later enacted in 2004.

November 6,

2002

Supreme Court President, Judge Marco Aurélio Mello, upholds the lower courts’ suspension of the EIA/RIMA, a major defeat for Belo Monte.

January 1,

2003

Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva becomes President of Brazil, makes energy needs his top priority, and revives the plans for Belo Monte, despite his previous opposition to the dam.

March

2004

President Lula demands that his federal ministers find ways to circumvent environmental and other impediments to stalled infrastructure projects throughout the country, including 18 hydroelectric dams.

July 13,

2005

Legislative Decree Number 788 authorizes construction of Belo Monte "after carrying out technical, economic, environmental and other viability studies thought to be necessary," but it does so without consulting local indigenous peoples, in apparent violation of the Constitution (Article 231) and the ILO Convention Number 169.

July 14,

2005

The International Rivers Network publishes Tenotã-Mõ, a 348-page report on Belo Monte intended to promote increased, informed debate regarding potential benefits and impacts.

August

2005

Attorney General of the Union (AGU) Antonio Fernando de Souza calls for a preliminary injunction to suspend the effects of Legislative Decree Number 788/2005.

December

2005

By a vote of 7 to 4, the Brazilian Supreme Court rules that inappropriate procedures were used to challenge the constitutionality of Legislative Decree Number 788/2005, and the injunction is dismissed.

January 31,

2006

IBAMA, at the request of Eletrobrás, reopens the environmental licensing process (ProtocoloDILIQ/IBAMA number 1.156) and later begins the EIA/RIMA with a technical inspection of the project area in March.

March 28,

2006

MPF files a lawsuit in TRF1 Altamira demanding a nullification of the Legislative Decree Number 788/2005 and a suspension of the environmental licensing process for Belo Monte. The TRF1 deputy judge in Altamira grants the MPF injunction and suspends the licensing process, including public hearings to take place at the end of May.

May 16,

2006

TRF1 Presiding Judge Herculano Martins Nacif in Altamira overturns the deputy judge’s ruling, but the injunction is upheld upon interlocutory appeal in TRF1 Brasília.

January 28,

2007

The National investment Program to Accelerate Growth (PAC) is introduced by the Lula administration, and Belo Monte is considered a priority

March 16,

2007

Supreme Court Justice Ellen Gracie monocratically dismisses the 2006 injunction that suspended the licensing process for Belo Monte, but does not rule on the validity of Legislative Decree Number 788/2005 (related hearings take place in October to November 2011).

December 5,

2007

IBAMA issues the Terms of Reference for the EIA/RIMA after technical surveys and public meetings in Altamira and Vitoria do Xingu in August 2007.

December 22,

2008

Eletrobrás submits an incomplete EIA/RIMA to IBAMA and formally accepts the 2002 run-of-the-river design and includes an "Indigenous Component."

July

2008

CNPE issues a nonbinding resolution limiting the hydroelectric development of the Xingu River to Belo Monte; ANEEL approves this resolution; and IBAMA conducts a new technical inspection of the project area in November 2008.

May 19–23,

2008

The Meeting of Indigenous Peoples and Social Movements in Altamira establishes the Xingu Forever Alive Movement, a broad-based coalition for protecting the Xingu and human rights.

February 27,

2009

Eletrobrás submits a draft of the EIA/RIMA to IBAMA and requests approval of the preliminary license for Belo Monte.

May 25,

2009

IBAMA announces its acceptance of the EIA/RIMA from Eletrobrás, but the report is not made available until May 27 (volumes 1–33 & 36), May 28 (volume 34), and July 10–September 8 (volume 35).

May 27,

2009

MPF files a lawsuit to nullify the 2009 EIA/RIMA over improper submission and acceptance.

June 3,

2009

TFR1 Judge Antonio Carlos de Almeida Campelo in Altamira partially accepts the MPF arguments and suspends the acceptance of the 2009 EIA/RIMA.

July

2009

President Lula meets with civil society groups and dam-affected peoples and promises not to "shove Belo Monte down their throats."

September–October

2009

CNPE publishes an ordinance indicating that the Belo Monte project is a priority for procurement and deployment. The Ministry of Mines and Energy publishes guidelines for the auction of Belo Monte energy.

October 1,

2009

An independent panel of 40 Brazilian specialists ranging from biologists, ecologists, and anthropologists to economists, political scientists, and energy planners submits a 230-page report to IBAMA documenting serious deficiencies in the 2009 EIA/RIMA.

November 10,

2009

TRF1 Judge Edson Grillo grants the injuction, suspending the environmental licensing process for Belo Monte due to deficiencies in the public hearing process.

November 11,

2009

TRF1 Presiding Judge Jirair Meguerian accepts the petition from the Attorney General to maintain the licensing process and overturns his court's injunction in a little over 24 hours. The licensing process resumes November 12.

November

2009

IBAMA technicians request additions to the 2009 EIA/RIMA, citing insufficient evidence for the approval of the preliminary license for Belo Monte.

December

2009

Two senior IBAMA officials, Leozildo Tabajara da Silva Benjamin, General Coordinator of Infrastructure, and Sebastião Custódio Pires, Licensing Director, resign amidst government pressure to approve the 2009 EIA/RIMA and the preliminary license for Belo Monte.

February 1,

2010

IBAMA's president approves the 2009 EIA/RIMA and grants a preliminary license to Norte Energia, a consortium of 18 partners including Eletrobrás and its subsidiary Eletronorte, for Belo Monte (two additional licenses, installation and operating, are still needed at this point).

February 4,

2010

Xingu Alive Forever Movement issues a public letter denouncing the approval of the preliminary license for Belo Monte.

February 5,

2010

ANEEL approves new feasibility studies for Belo Monte.

February 12,

2010

MME Secretary of Energy Planning and Development Ordinance Number 2 makes public the physical guarantees of Belo Monte.

February 18,

2010

The National Bank for Economic and Social Development (BNDES) announces it will finance up to 80 percent of the investments needed to build Belo Monte.

April 6,

2010

IBAMA president Roberto Messias Franco resigns admist pressure over environmental licensing for for Belo Monte.

April 8,

2010

Film director James Cameron writes a personal letter to President Luis Inácio Lula da Silva expressing concerns over Belo Monte.

April 8,

2010

MPF initiates lawsuits regarding irregularities in Belo Monte's environmental licensing process.

April 14,

2010

TFR1 Judge Antonio Carlos de Almeida Campelo in Altamira upholds the MPF lawsuits and orders the suspension of the preliminary license as well as the cancellation of the Belo Monte auction scheduled for April 20.

April 16 & 20,

2010

TFR1 President in Brasília, Judge Jirair Aram Megueriam, immediately overturns two of Judge Campelo's three injunctions, reinstating the Belo Monte auction by government energy regulator ANEEL.

April 20,

2010

The auction proceeds, with the tender awarded in less than 10 minutes to Norte Energia, a consortium led by subsidiary of parastatal power utility Eletrobrás for 77.97 reals per megawatt hour, 6 percent below the price ceiling (competitors Odebrecht, Camargo Corrêa, and CPFL previously opted out of bidding due to the artificially low price of the auction set by the government).

May

2010

The Attorney General of the Union (AGU) files administrative proceedings against the MPF prosecutors; the procedure is later rejected by TFR1 in Altamira on September 12, 2011.

May 13,

2010

Nongovernmental organizations file a complaint with the United Nations regarding threats and pressures faced by the MPF attorneys and TFR1 Judge Campelo over the Belo Monte auction

June

2010

Wilson Cabral de Sousa Júnior and John Reid publish a study in Water Alternative calculating a 72 percent chance that the costs of the Belo Monte dam will be greater than the benefits. The authors call for a participatory consensus on whether or not to build Belo Monte, based on clear, objective information.

June 10,

2010

TRF1 Judge Campelo in Altamira is removed from office and replaced by Judge Ruy Dias de Souza Filho, who will preside over the recently created "environmental court" in Belém, which will take over the Belo Monte cases (the new judge has no previous experience in environmental law).

August

2010

Private Conglomerate Andrade Gutierrez is to lead 11 construction companies, including Odebrecht and Camargo Corrêa, that will build Belo Monte. He was a member of the losing consortium at the April auction; Odebrecht and Camargo Corrêa had opted out of the auction, claiming the project to be uneconomical.

December

2010

BNDES approves the first bridge loan of 1.087 billion reals to Norte Energia, but construction funds cannot be used until the IBAMA approves the installation license for Belo Monte.


2010

Google Earth suspends satellite imagery of the area including the Belo Monte construction site.

January

2011

Echoing the 2010 study by Sousa Júnior and Reid, Zachary Hurwitz and coauthors outline the financial risks associated with Belo Monte, including the low investment returns due to uncertainty over the construction and the socioenvironmental costs, the low potential (versus installed) capacity for electricity generation due to the highly seasonal flow of Xingu, and the uncertainty of its future market value.

January 1,

2011

Dilma Vana Rousseff, former Minister of Mines and Energy (2003–2005), succeeds Lula as President of Brazil.

January 12,

2011

IBAMA president Abelardo Bayma Azevedo resigns admist pressure to approve the installation license for Belo Monte.

January 26,

2011

IBAMA approves the partial installation license (LI) permitting preparation of the Belo Monte construction site (for example, building dormitories for workers). No such environmental license exists under Brazilian law.

February 25,

2011

TFR1 Judge Ronaldo Castro Destêrro e Silva in Belém orders the immediate suspension of the partial installation license, citing compliance deficiencies and environmental concerns, and prohibits BNDES from financing the project.

March 3,

2011

TFR1 Presiding Judge Olindo Menezes overturns this injunction using a legal artifice dating back to the military dictatorship, based on supposed threats to national security. Belo Monte construction promptly resumes March 7.

March

2011

The International Labor Organization (ILO) declares that the Brazilian government violated its commitment to Convention 169 by not holding prior consultations with dam-affected populations.

April 1,

2011

The Organization of American States (OAS) Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) issues precautionary measures for Brazil due to an alleged failure to consult with indigenous communities prior to Belo Monte's construction.

April 30,

2011

President Dilma Rousseff withdraws Brazil's OAS ambassador and suspends annual dues to OAS.

May

2011

Vale, the world's second-largest mining corporation, agrees to purchase a 9 percent stake in Norte Energia. The consortia Engevix and Eletrobrás slightly alter the Belo Monte design, removing the Bela Vista dam and reducing the number of water diversion channels from two to one. These design alterations are submitted to IBAMA.

June 1,

2011

IBAMA issues a full installation license to Norte Energia despite deficiencies to its EIA/RIMA. Construction of Belo Monte officially begins with a cofferdam providing artificial earthen embankments for construction of the Pimental Dam on the Xingu River.

July 25,

2011

Despite previous restrictions that prompted Norte Energia to drop the loan, BNDES completes bridge loan of 1.087 billion reals to Norte Energia.

September 28,

2011

TRF1 Judge Carlos Castro Martins in Altamira prohibits Norte Energia from construction altering the Xingu’s river bed due to the impact on local fishing cultures. Later, on December 16, 2011, he reverses the order, stating, "Since the course of the river won't be altered, and there won't be much variation in the speed of its flow, [Belo Monte] won't have a major influence on the habitat of ornamental fish species used for fishing."

October 17,

2011

TRF1 Judge Selene Maria de Almeida in Brasília admits a lawsuit filed by MPF in 2006 and upholds the claim that legislative decree 788 authorizing Belo Monte is invalid, because the government failed to observe the need for prior consultation with affected indigenous communities. Judge Almeida also notes the binding provisions of ILO Convention 169. Judge Fagundes de Deus, former legal counsel to Eletronorte, uses his "right of inspection" to postpone the trial to October 26.

October 26,

2011

TRF1 Judge Fagundes de Deus opposes Judge Selene Maria de Almeida and defends the validity of legislative decree 788; a final court decision is postponed to November 9.

October 27,

2011

An estimated 600 indigenous people from 21 tribes, as well as fishermen, occupy the dam construction site, demanding a definitive end to project. The protesters are evicted by court order the next day. This is the first of many occupy-style protests to come.

November 9,

2011

TRF1 Judge Maria do Carmo Cardoso upholds the validity of legislative decree 788 in a tie-breaking vote and claims that prior consultations with affected indigenous communities are unnecessary since the dam infrastructure and reservoirs are not physically located on indigenous lands. Judge Cardoso further states indigenous peoples should consider themselves "privileged" to be consulted about large projects that affect their livelihoods (and makes no mention of ILO Convention 169).

January 27,

2012

VALE, the Brazilian mining giant present in 38 countries and the leading private shareholder in Belo Monte, earns the Public Eye Award for “Worst Corporation in the World” due to its involvement in Belo Monte and the mine in Carajás and due to its record of labor and human rights violations.

February

2012

BNDES approves a second bridge loan to Norte Energia for 1.8 billion reals; Caixa Econômica Federal (CEF) passes through 1.3 billion reals, and Banco ABC Brasil passes through a further 500 million reals.

June–July

2012

An estimated 300 indigenous people occupy the Belo Monte construction site for 21 days and dig a symbolic channel through the earthen dam blocking a portion of the Xingu. (Shown in the image at the top.)

July

2012

MPF files a lawsuit calling for the immediate suspension of the full installation license for Belo Monte, granted by IBAMA in June 2011, and demands an immediate halt to construction, given the chronic noncompliance of Norte Energia with legally-required mitigation and compensation measures.

August 14,

2012

TRF1 Judge Antonio Souza Prudente in Brasília upholds the MPF lawsuit and suspends Legislative Decree Number 788, citing Article 231 of the Constitution and the ILO Convention 169. This ruling renders Belo Monte's preliminary license (granted in 2010) and installation license (granted in 2011) invalid.

August 23,

2012

Norte Energia halts construction of Belo Monte upon formal notice of TRF1 ruling.

August 27,

2012

Outgoing Supreme Court Chief Justice Carlos Ayres Britto, in response to a complaint from the Brazilian Attorney General's Office (AGU), overturns the TRF1 ruling. Belo Monte construction resumes after a 6-day halt.

November 9–12

2012

A strike involving over 8,000 dam workers breaks out in response to a broken agreement over wage increases for 2013. The workers vandalize offices and canteens, set fire to mattresses, burn a bus to the ground, and block the Trans-Amazon highway.

November

2012

BNDES approves a 30-year loan of 22.5 billion reals to Norte Energia, co-financed by Caixa Econômica Federal (CEF) and BTG Pactual.

December

2012

Norte Energia announces the completion of a cofferdam partially closing off the Xingu River to begin construction of Pimental Dam.

February

2013

Police discover and dismantle a trafficking and prostitution ring involving Belo Monte workers. Two ring leaders are later arrested in Rio Grande do Sul in September 2013.

March

2013

Kayapó chiefs unanimously reject a $9 million offer from Eletrobrás to fund local development.

March 12,

2013

Decree 7.957/2013 creates the Environmental Operations Company of the National Public Security Force, with duties to "assist on ongoing surveys and technical reports about negative environmental impacts." According to a 2013 study by the Socio-Environmental Institute of Brazil (ISA) , this means the official creation of a state instrument for militarized repression of any action of indigenous peoples, communities, social organizations, and movements that stand against infrastructural projects that might impact their territories.

March 18,

2013

On behalf of Norte Energia, the Pará court prohibits protests from interfering with dam construction, citing national security interests.

April 10,

2013

An estimated 5,000 dam workers go on strike with demands for higher salaries and better working conditions.

May

2013

The total construction cost of Belo Monte exceeds 30 billion reals, nearly twice the original expected cost of 16 billion reals.

October 25,

2013

TFR1 Judge Antônio Souza Prudente in Brasília upholds the MPF lawsuit filed in 2011, grants the injunction canceling the partial installation permit for Belo Monte, suspends construction, and bans BNDES funding.

October 30,

2013

TFR1 Presiding Judge Mário César Ribeiro in Brasília overturns Judge Prudente's injunction.

December 16,

2013

TFR1 Judge Antônio Souza Prudente in Brasília suspends Belo Monte construction due to Norte Energia's failure to fulfill the mitigation action plan.

December 19,

2013

TRF1 Special Court overturns Judge Prudente's suspension in less than 72 hours by a vote of 11 to 1 (one day before Christmas recess).

February

2014

IE Belo Monte, a Chinese–Brazilian consortium, wins rights to build and operate a power line connecting Belo Monte to southeastern Brazil.

March 26,

2014

TRF1 Judge Antônio de Souza Prudente in Brasília partially upholds the MPF appeal stemming from its 2010 lawsuit and issues a 10-day suspension of Belo Monte's preliminary license, demanding a new EIA/RIMA within 90 days.

December 24,

2014

Amid corruption charges, parastatal energy giant Petrobras authorizes the creation of a special committee to serve as a reporting line for an existing independent internal investigation. The 3-person committee includes Ellen Gracie, former president of the Brazilian Supreme Court, and is responsible for approving the investigation plan, among other duties.

March

2015

Detained during Operation "Lava Jato" (Car Wash) for involvement in the Petrobras scandal, top executives at Camargo Corrêa plea bargain with MPF prosecutors and vow to provide details of systematic corruption in the construction of the Belo Monte and Jirau megadams. Dalton Avancini, former president of Camargo Corrêa, testifies to paying 20 million reals in bribes during Belo Monte's construction to representatives of Eletronorte, including Adhemar Palocci, the brother of the former Minister of Finance and Staff Antonio Palocci.

March 30,

2015

Belo Sun Mining Corporation, a Canadian-based mineral exploration company, announces a positive feasibility study for its Volta Grande Gold Project (begun in 2003), an open-pit mine planned for the right bank of the Xingu River below the Pimental Dam.

June 30,

2015

The Socio-Environmental Institute of Brazil (ISA) publishes a dossier on the social and environmental negligence of the consortium responsible for Belo Monte, arguing that the conditions for issuing an operating license were lacking, the last of three licenses needed for Belo Monte to be completed

July 28,

2015

Operation "Lava Jato" continues with the arrest of Othon Luiz Pinheiro da Silva, president of Eletrobrás unit Eletronuclear, and Flavio Barra, an executive with the energy unit of the construction firm Andrade Gutierrez. Charges against da Silva include taking $1.2 million in bribes from construction companies from 2009 to 2014.

August

2015

Norte Energia begins clearing vegetation from Ilha do Arapujá in accordance with IBAMA's stipulation; the large island in the Xingu channel opposite Altamira will be partially flooded after the in-stream reservoir is filled.

September 22,

2015

IBAMA's director, Thomas Miazaki, denies Norte Energia's request for Belo Monte's Operational License. This denial prevents the filling of the in-stream reservoir during the coming high-water season on the basis of 12 unfulfilled obligations, including the failure to complete eight bridges and two walkways in Altamira, the failure to meet the goals for the local sewage system, the failure to complete the resettlement of dam-affected peoples, and the failure to demolish structures and remove vegetation from areas to be flooded. Norte Energia responds that it will make proof of compensatory actions within the week.


Updates

November 5,

2015

The Doce River, a watershed in the state of Minas Gerais with a long history of mining, is severely contaminated for nearly 500 kilometers when two mining dams collapse, releasing 60 million cubic meters of toxic mud that eventually reach the Atlantic Ocean. The mine owner has insisted the sludge is harmless. Tests by water management authorities, however, found toxic substances like mercury, arsenic, chromium, and manganese at levels exceeding those advised for human consumption. Scientists estimate the biodiversity of the river is completely lost.

November 12,

2015

President of FUNAI (Fundação Nacional do Índio) sends official letter to IBAMA stating that conditions necessary for the protection of affected indigenous communities are clearly not met, but the environmental authority may grant Belo Monte's Operational License "if deemed appropriate."

November 24,

2015

IBAMA authorizes Belo Monte's Operational License (valid for 6 years) despite non-compliance with issues raised in its 22 Sep report. The timing is important as it allows the reservoirs to be filled during the oncoming high-water season.

February 20,

2016

Over 16 tons of fish reportedly die from November 24, 2015 to February 18, 2016, after the instream reservoir began to fill. IBAMA fines Norte Energia 8 million reals. Norte Energia responded that the fish kills "are related to the effects of operation of spillways with high flow rates [and that] the causes have been identified and...minimized by operational adjustments." Investigation of the fish kills began after local fishermen complained of crowded pits of dead fishes near one of the dam's buses.

This post is published in The Long View


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