Thursday, August 16, 2012

Court Orders Halt to Brazil Mega-Dam

A Brazilian court has ordered work to be halted on the Belo Monte dam project in the Amazon region on the grounds that local indigenous groups have not been properly consulted.

The judges ruled that Congress could not legitimately authorize the project without full consultations and an independent assessment of its environmental impact. Upside Down World reports that the court found Congress’ approval of the dam in 2005 to be illegal under the terms of the constitution and International Labour Organization convention 169, which require indigenous groups to be consulted. The legislature approved the plan without an environmental impact study, and a subsequent impact study was approved by the federal environment agency under intense political pressure and against the objections of its employees, according to the website.


Local tribes fiercely oppose the hydroelectric dam, set to be the third-biggest in the world, because it will flood a 500 square kilometers of forest and divert 80 percent of water in the Xingu River, which they use for water supply, transport, and  fishing.

As the BBC reports, the lead judge on the case told Brazilian press "A study on the environmental impact of the project was required before, not after, work on the dam started. The legislation is flawed." Judge Antonio de Souza Prudente stated that “Indigenous people must be listened to and respected."

Consortium Norte Energia will face a fine of $250,000 a day if it continues work despite the court order, but it will be able to appeal against the decision.

The dam is expected to become fully operational in seven years time, and will supply some 26 million people with electricity. President Dilma Rousseff has promoted the project as a way to create jobs and help make Brazil more prosperous.

There have been protests against the project for years, including an occupation of the construction site by by hundreds of indigenous people during the G-20 summit in June. Last month, tribal leaders held three Norte Energia workers hostage for a few days to express their unhappiness with measures intended to mitigate the project’s impact.

Inter-Press Service commented that, although the ruling may just be another stage in a "long, drawn-out war" over the project, it does show that the courts are prepared to defend the rights of indigenous groups to have a say in how the land they live on is used.

In other news from Brazil, the government has announced plans to invest $66 billion in transport infrastructure, half of it in the next five years, reports the Associated Press.


News Briefs

  • On Wednesday night Ecuador’s government said that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange could remain in its London Embassy indefinitely on humanitarian grounds, and that it would announce a decision on his asylum request Thursday, reports the NYT. Foreign Minister Ricardo PatiƱo claimed that the UK authorities had threatened to storm the embassy and arrest Assange, which he said would bring consequences. “We are not a British colony” explained the minister.
  • A group of alleged criminals, thought to belong to the Jalisco Cartel - New Generation have admitted to the murder of five journalists murdered in Veracruz, east Mexico, earlier this year, reports La Cronica de Hoy. The AP notes that Mexican security forces have been criticized for closing cases once a confession has been extracted, rather than carrying out a full investigation. Meanwhile in Monterrey, near the US border, nine people were killed when gunmen attacked a bar called the Matehuala Men’s Club, reported the AP.
  • Two US congressmen said they had evidence implicating Wal-Mart’s Mexican branch in money laundering and tax evasion, reports the WSJ. In April, the NYT broke the story that Wal-Mart de Mexico had paid bribes to officials to allow it to expand its network of stores across the country.
  • Mexican national Sandra Avila Beltran, known as the “Queen of the Pacific,” has been denied bail in Miami after being extradited to the US last week to stand trial on charges of drug trafficking. The Miami Herald reports that “the once-fashionable Avila was dressed in a drab khaki prison suit and orange rubber clogs, with shackles on her wrists and ankles.”
  • The US Treasury Department has announced sanctions against a daughter and a friend of a Guatemalan alleged trafficker known as the “Queen of the South,” Marllory Dadiana Chacon Rossell, as elPeriodico reports. Chacon is accused of laundering tens of millions of dollars in drug profits each month, according to the WSJ blog.
  • US Embassy officials have met with a US citizen being held in Venezuela on suspicion of being a mercenary, sent to stir up trouble in the country if the opposition lost the elections, reports the AP
  • Two Brazilian men were reportedly burnt alive by a mob in a Bolivian border town, where they had been arrested on suspicion of murder, according to the AP.
  • Student protests broke out again in Santiago on Tuesday, with young people demanding radical reform to make the education system more affordable, following the burning of city buses during protests last week. City Mayor Pablo Zalaquett has threatened to remove scholarships from students who occupy school buildings, reports the AP.
  • The NYT reports from the tent camps of Haiti, which were set up to house those left homeless after the January 2010 earthquake but have become a permanent home for hundreds of thousands of people. “In the absence of an overarching housing policy, Haiti’s shelter problem has been tackled unsystematically, in a way that has favored rural over urban victims and homeowners over renters because their needs were more easily met.”
  • The Toronto Star has a feature on the ongoing hunger strike by a group of Colombian former employees of General Motors, who have sewn their lips shut to protest against the company, which they say fired them without compensation after they received injuries on the job. Four sewed their mouths shut on August 1, and another three a week later, and they say more will join each week if their demand for compensation is not met.
  • The WSJ reports on the tourism renaissance in the wine-producing Valle de Guadalupe in Baja California, northwest Mexico.