Brazil Suspends Licensing of Controversial Amazon Dam

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Brasilia, Brazil: In a surprising move, IBAMA, the administrative arm of the Brazilian Ministry of the Environment, suspended the environmental licensing process of the controversial São Luiz do Tapajós Dam in the Brazilian Amazon yesterday. International Rivers welcomes this decision as an important breakthrough for the protection of rivers and indigenous rights in the Amazon. 

The move comes just one day after the federal agency for indigenous affairs in Brazil, FUNAI, published a technical report confirming that a 178,000-hectare territory along the Tapajós River, known as “Sawre Muybu,” should be demarcated and protected as traditional lands of the indigenous Munduruku people, in accordance with the Brazilian constitution. The government, influenced by the powerful dam industry, has until now strongly resisted demarcating Sawre Muybu. This led the Munduruku, who have been waging a battle against the São Luiz do Tapajós Dam for years, to initiate a process of “self-demarcation” of their territory in 2014.

Brent Millikan, Amazon Program Director at International Rivers, said in response to the news, “Even though the fight isn’t over, this is an important victory, especially for the Munduruku people and their allies, and for democracy in Brazil. Demarcation is the first step in giving the Munduruku control over their ancestral lands and stopping this unnecessary project, which is riddled with corruption.”

The news marks a rapid about-face for the government, which has strongly pushed for the hydroelectric dam and repeatedly violated the Munduruku’s human rights. São Luiz do Tapajós is largest of a suite of projects that represent the most forceful dam-building incursion into the Amazon yet and a frontline in the fight to save the rainforest.

Together, the dams would flood 198,400 hectares of land along the Tapajós, including large portions of the Amazonia and Juruena National Parks and the Itaituba National Forests. These dams would have significant impacts on indigenous lands and communities throughout the Amazon, including the Munduruku, Apiaká de Pimental, Akaybãe, Remédio, Sai Cinza, São Martinho and Boca do Igarapé Pacu. They would also degrade critical ecosystems, decimate local fisheries, and release large amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.