June 19, 2024

Brazil Rejects Panel’s Request to Stop Dam

SÃO PAULO — Brazil’s government emphatically refused on Tuesday to suspend work on a huge hydroelectric dam in the Amazon, despite pleas that the project could displace tens of thousands of indigenous people and cause environmental harm.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, part of the Organization of American States, ’had asked Brazil on Friday to halt construction of the Belo Monte dam, slated to be the world’s third largest, until it complied with its legal obligations to consult with indigenous groups.

The commission said the consultations needed to be “free, prior, informed, of good faith and culturally appropriate.” Among its requests were measures to prevent the spread of diseases that could result from the population flow during construction.

But on Tuesday Brazil’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs ’called the demands “premature and unjustified,” saying the government had complied with its obligations under Brazilian law.

The dispute is the latest in the long battle between the government, which is determined to construct the dam to keep up with rising energy demand, and an array of environmental and human rights advocates, including Hollywood titans and former President Bill Clinton.

The $17 billion dam would divert the flow of the Xingu River along a 62-mile stretch in Pará state. Environmental groups say it would flood more than 120,000 acres of rain forest and local settlements, displacing 20,000 to 40,000 people and releasing large quantities of methane. Brazil says the number of displaced would be much lower.

President Dilma Rousseff, who was chief of staff and energy minister under her predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, has expressed an unwavering commitment to Belo Monte despite her stated desire to be more sensitive to human rights.

Brazil uses hydroelectric power for more than 80 percent of its energy, and David Fleischer, a political science professor at Brasilia University, said the government “is going to move forward with the Belo Monte project regardless of any complaints or protests.”

Higher federal courts have rejected legal challenges to the project, which is nearing a final decision by Ibama, Brazil’s environmental protection agency.

A president of Ibama, Roberto Messias Franco, resigned last April, reportedly over government pressure to approve environmental licenses for Belo Monte. His successor, Abelardo Bayma Azevedo, asked to leave for “personal reasons” days after Ms. Rousseff became president in January.

Meanwhile, groups allied against Belo Monte have continued the fight. The director James Cameron has traveled to the Xingu region three times to meet with indigenous leaders; last month he was accompanied by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California.

At a sustainability conference in Manaus last month, Mr. Clinton called on Brazil to show leadership in finding alternative energy solutions.

Noting that he was “naturally sympathetic with indigenous peoples,” he added, “I want you to lead the rest of the world into the 21st century on this.”

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/06/world/americas/06brazil.html?partner=rss&emc=rss