Belo Monte Construction Intensifies Conflicts with Indigenous Peoples


Amazon Watch, International Rivers, Instituto Socioambiental press release

Date of publication: 
19 February 2014

Requirements to mitigate impacts remain unmet; Indigenous peoples call for immediate suspension of construction

Altamira, Brazil – As the hurried construction of the controversial Belo Monte mega-dam nears 50% completion on the Amazon’s Xingu River, a new report revealed that more than 80% of legally required actions to mitigate project impacts on indigenous peoples and their territories are mired in noncompliance. The report coincides with renewed protests among local indigenous groups over the failure of the Norte Energia (NESA) dam consortium and federal government agencies to fulfill legal obligations to protect their lands and livelihoods from the devastating impacts unleashed by Belo Monte.

According to the report by the Brazilian NGO Socio-Environmental Institute (ISA) –which cites official information published by regulatory agencies that take part in the licensing process- only 15% of key actions to ensure the territorial rights of indigenous peoples affected by Belo Monte have been effectively implemented, citing grave negligence on the part of the NESA dam consortium and government agencies. This includes demarcation, enforcement and removal of illegal occupants on their tribal lands. As a result, indigenous lands have become increasingly vulnerable to illegal logging, hunting, fishing and deforestation for cattle pasture – pressures on natural resources that have been greatly intensified by the construction of Belo Monte.

Despite neglecting its legal responsibilities, NESA expects to receive a definitive operating licensing from IBAMA for Belo Monte by mid-2014.

“Indigenous territories and protected areas are important sections of forest, rich in biodiversity, which suffer immense pressure from the arrival of large projects like Belo Monte,” said ISA lawyer Biviany Rojas. “Measures to protect these territories should be preventive in their nature, before the start of expected impacts. To leave protective measures and territorial surveillance until after damage is done risks their losing meaning and effectiveness.”

According to a declaration issued last week by nine indigenous groups, one of the most serious examples of negligence in Belo Monte concerns a formal agreement between NESA and the federal indigenous agency FUNAI, guaranteeing financial resources for an action plan to mitigate impacts on indigenous peoples. The agreement was to have been signed by July 2011, but three years after the beginning of the dam construction it still doesn’t exist. In the meantime, NESA created a scaled-down “operational plan” without indigenous participation.

“Our principal demand is that Brazil’s judicial order be respected, that the law be followed,” states a letter from indigenous leadership. “Norte Energia doesn’t lack technical capacity, money, or political influence to implement [mitigation measures]. What it lacks is will, interest, and respect for indigenous peoples and the law.”

The ISA report also notes that NESA has neglected its obligations to strengthen the institutional presence of FUNAI in the Xingu region, for the agency to fulfill its constitutional mission to protect indigenous peoples and their lands, which includes monitoring the implementation of Belo Monte. Due to a lack of institutional capacity, FUNAI has not issued a monitoring report on Belo Monte since May 2013; meanwhile, the federal environmental agency IBAMA has dismissed the indigenous component of its bi-annual evaluations of Belo Monte as “non-pertinent.”

After occupying NESA headquarters in the city of Altamira for nearly a week, indigenous protestors demanded a meeting with NESA, FUNAI president Maria Augusta Assirati and other authorities. At the meeting held in Altamira on February 14th, representatives of the nine tribes called on FUNAI to immediate revoke its endorsement of Belo Monte’s installation license. A local representative of Brazil Federal Public Prosecutors Office, also in attendance, supported the demand. Assirati responded by promising that FUNAI will sign a satisfactory agreement with NESA by mid-March, two and a half years overdue, or the agency will adopt “much harsher” measures.

More information:

ISA press release on report – ISA press release and videos about the February 14th meeting in Altamira – Indigenous peoples declaration –

For more information, contact:
Brent Millikan: +55 61 8153 7009, brent [at] internationalrivers [dot] org
Leticia Leite: + 55 61 8112 6258, leticialeite [at] socioambiental [dot] org
Christian Poirier: +33 770381 849, christian [at] amazonwatch [dot] org