Brazilian Federal Judge Carlos Eduardo Castro Martins in the northern Para state on Sept. 29 ordered construction halted on the contentious Belo Monte dam, citing the building of a port, dikes, canals and frequent detonations as threats to the local fish population, which riverside communities live on.
Castro Martins ruled in favor of the Altamira Ornamental Fish Farmers and Exporters Association, which had filed the suit, complaining that the species they fish could become extinct from the construction.
“It is not reasonable to allow for numerous families, whose sustenance depends exclusively on the fishing of ornamental fish on the Xingu River, to be directly affected by the hydroelectric project,” said Castro Martins.
The company, Consorcio Norte Energia, can appeal the decision, however.
The US$11-billion Belo Monte project, if completed, would become the world’s third-largest hydroelectric project in the world after the Three Gorges in China and Itaipu on the Brazil-Paraguay border. It would produce 11,200 MW and is a centerpiece of Brazil’s long-term energy policy.
Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira defended the project and the environmental permit the government had granted it since “every technical study on the project’s possible environmental impact was done, including various recommendations whose fulfillment is being verified.”
Environmentalist and indigenous groups and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights have opposed the project for its environmental and social impact and have demanded a previous consultation to the local communities, one of the pillars of the International Labor Organization’s Convention 169 on the rights of indigenous peoples. The area is home to some 20,000 indigenous peoples of 28 ethnic groups.
“As well as drastically affecting fish stocks, it would devastate vast areas of forest upon which thousands of indigenous people, including uncontacted Indians, depend for their well-being,” said UK-based indigenous group Survival International, adding that the indigenous “have not given their consent for the dam to go ahead, and have warned that if it does, the Xingu could become a ‘river of blood’.”