Brazil secures Belo Monte site, but not human rights of affected people | Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA) Skip to content Skip to navigation

Brazil secures Belo Monte site, but not human rights of affected people

Time doesn’t stop and, unfortunately, nor does the construction of the Belo Monte Dam. Work is advancing at an impressive rate on the Xingu River, in the Brazilian Amazon; 65% of the dam is complete. As it grows, the ecosystem—and the lives of people living in the area—deteriorates.

Construction of the gigantic dam has opened an enormous gash through the thick Amazonian vegetation. Seeing it from the air creates a feeling of helplessness. And on land, it’s frustrating to see that the situation of indigenous peoples, coastal communities, and residents of the city of Altamira worsens.

Recently, AIDA lawyers, María José Veramendi Villa and Alexandre Andrade Sampaio, visited the Arara indigenous community, nestled in the Big Bend of the Xingu River. Once Belo Monte dams the river, it will reduce the river’s flow so drastically that fishing, the livelihood of the Arara, will no longer be possible. Furthermore, the Arara will lose the track that leads to their sacred sites. They await the arrival of vehicles and construction of a road and a suitable well, because the quality of drinking water is not the best.

In Altamira, the deteriorating situation is similar. Veramendi and Sampaio went there too. Once dam construction began, the population of the city grew massively. This boom has overwhelmed health services and the sanitation system and, worse, led to an increase in cases of sexual violence and human trafficking.

Norte Energia, the consortium of government and private enterprises building the dam, has caused pisions among the affected population by paying more for some lands than for others. Many people were forced to sell their homes at a minimum price before they were evicted. And the small cinderblock cubes built for the relocation of displaced families do not qualify as adequate housing. Relocation also involves a change in lifestyle: from fishing to farming or hauling bags of cement.

"This frays the social fabric,” explained Veramendi. “We work daily, along with our colleagues in Brazil, to make clear in the country and internationally that what is happening in Belo Monte constitutes human rights violations. We are constantly working to compel the government of Brazil to comply with the precautionary measures issued by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights."

On April 1, 2011, the Commission issued precautionary measures that Brazil should take to protect the life, health, and personal and cultural integrity of indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation; the health of other indigenous communities affected by the project; and demarcation of the ancestral lands of indigenous peoples.

Our work, like the work of the human rights and environmental defenders we support in Brazil, is not easy. State security forces guard the construction site and Altamira. "We are surrounded, intimidated and harassed; there is no guarantee for our work," said Sampaio.

With your help, we will continue fighting to see that the Belo Monte case progresses with the Commission, and that the Government of Brazil complies with its international human rights obligations rather than use the dam to bolster its electoral campaign at the cost of the environment and human welfare.

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