Federal judge in Brazil suspends construction of dam that would flood indigenous sacred site

By Jeremy Hance / Mongabay

A federal judge has suspended the construction of a 1,820 megawatt dam on the Teles Pires River in the Amazon. The judge found that indigenous communities were not properly consulted about the dam, which would flood a sacred site, known as the Seven Waterfalls, as well as imperil the livelihoods of indigenous fishermen.

“The compensation [the government is] offering will never substitute places that are sacred to us, such as Sete Queda [Seven Waterfalls], that hold the cemeteries of our ancestors and that should be preserved. Sete Quedas is also the spawning grounds of fish that are an important source of food. They talk about fish ladders, but where have these ever worked?” Taravy Kayabi, a leader of the indigenous Kayabi people, said in a press release, adding that, “The government needs to look for alternative ways to generate energy that don’t harm indigenous peoples and their territories.”

The judge ordered that the indigenous tribes of the Kayabi, Manduruku, and Apiaká must be consulted before any further construction can occur on the Teles Pires Dam, named after the river. Breaking the suspension will result in a fine of $100,000 per day.

Still, NGOs warn that this is not the end of the Teles Pires Dam.

“What we’ve seen over and over again, in cases such as [the Belo Monte dam], is that the President’s office politically intervenes in regional federal courts to overturn decisions against violations of human rights and environmental legislation, using false arguments, such as an impending blackout if the dams aren’t immediately constructed,” said Brent Millikan, Amazon Program Director with International Rivers in a press release.

The Brazilian government is planning to build a number of massive hydroelectric projects in the Amazon, including the hugely controversial Belo Monte dam. The federal government argues it needs the energy in order to continue with development plans, but critics say that dams threaten already marginalized indigenous communities, ruin wild rivers, destroy pristine rainforest, and release greenhouse gases due to rotting vegetation in reservoirs.

Six hydroelectric projects are currently planned on the Teles Pires River.

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