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Reprieve for Amazon as Controversial Dam Gets Setback

Operating suspension issued for Belo Monte Dam in Brazil

A 2011 protest against the Belo Monte Dam.  (Photo:  Diego Mendonça/flickr/cc)

In a case described as precedent-setting, a Brazilian court has suspended the operating license for one of the world's biggest—and most controversial—dams.

The long-contested Belo Monte Dam, would be the world's third-largest such hydroelectric project, International Rivers explains, and would "divert the flow of the Xingu, devastate an extensive area of the Brazilian rainforest, displace over 20,000 people, and threaten the survival of indigenous tribes that depend on the river."

The court Federal Court in Altamira, Para, EFE reports, issued the suspension last Thursday because the company and government had failed for the past year to present a plan of how they would set up a regional office of the national Indian protection agency to help mitigate consequences the project would unleash.

The court also issued a fine to the company and government of $225,000 for the failure.

Writing in 2012, human rights advocate Bianca Jagger said the dam would "change the face of the Amazon basin forever," and, as it would necessitate creation of even more dams, she added, "The destruction will not stop at Belo Monte. Belo Monte is only the beginning of this human rights and environmental catastrophe."

Reuters reports that electricity generation from the dam was just weeks away.

Christian Poirier of Amazon Watch told the Guardian that though the decision would not stop Belo Monte, "This case sets an important precedent for the defence of indigenous rights in the Amazon at a time when the government is set to repeat the Belo Monte disaster by building dozens of dams on the Tapajós River."

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