LATIN AMERICA

Court halts Brazilian hydroelectric plant

Environmentalists had condemned the dam, saying it would devastate wildlife

The River Xingú in Belo Monte.
The River Xingú in Belo Monte.

A federal court in Brazil on Tuesday ordered work halted on the controversial Belo Monte hydroelectric plant in the Brazilian Amazon forest after ruling that the indigenous communities in the region were not consulted beforehand about the project.

Judge Souza Prudente of the regional federal court imposed a 500,000-real daily fine (about 200,000 euros) against the state-owned company Electrolux if it refuses to stop work on the project. The Belo Monte plant was one of the most important infrastructure projects promoted during the previous administration of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. It formed part of current President Dilma Rousseff's Program to Accelerate Growth (PAC).

But environmentalists had condemned the dam, saying that it would devastate wildlife and ruin the livelihoods of about 40,000 people who live in an area slated to be flooded. The government says the Belo Monte plant is essential to Brazil's economic growth and would help meet the nation's energy needs.

Since discussions began more than 20 years ago, the dam has been called "the apple of discord" because of the controversies it has since prompted. The government has modified more than a dozen times its plans in order to ease the environmental impact, making changes to the tune of some $1.2 billion.

Indigenous communities have held a series of protest marches calling on Rousseff to cancel the project.

Located on the Xingú river, the dam would be built some 40 kilometers outside the city of Altamira, Pará state. It would be the third-largest hydroelectric plant in the world after China's Three Gorges Dam in Hubei and the Itaipú located on the Brazilian-Paraguayan border.

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