The Belo Monte Dam Protest

Posted by on Feb-12-2011

Brazil, world’s fifth largest country, is the only Latin American nation that derives its language and culture from Portugal. When we think of Brazil the first thing that runs into our mind is the Brazilian FIFA Team. But there are many more things in Brazil that we may not observe at first.

Recently, everyone might have read in news about the protest where half a million indigenous people filed a petition against the Belo Monte Dam Project. Today, the Belo Monte dam is the most controversial dam project in Brazil. Proposed on the Xingu River in Brazil, this dam would be the world’s third largest hydroelectric project. Many Brazilians believe, that if Belo Monte is constructed, it will represent a carte blanche for the destruction of all the magnificent rivers of the Amazon – next the Tapajos, the Teles Pires, then the Araguaia-Tocantins, and so on.

According to the Brazilian Government the project will cost more than US$10 billion but industry analysts say that due to the difficulties in building a project of this size in the Amazon, its cost could easily exceed US$16 billion. Though this project costs a whooping big figure natives believe that this huge cost and perfect design is no guarantee to proper functioning of the dam. The river’s large seasonal variations in flow have led many to believe that after completing Belo Monte, Brazil will build other dams upstream with greater storage capacity to guarantee there will be enough water for Belo Monte to generate electricity year-round. The possible future upstream dams would impact Kayapó indigenous territories, flood the lands of peoples such as the Araweté, Assuriní and Arara, and cause extensive damage to forests and fisheries across the region.

The project is strongly criticized by indigenous people and many non-governmental organizations in Brazil. When decisions were taken to construct this dam, there was lack of consultation with the public and only four hearing were held in the cities of Altamira and Vitória do Xingu. According to the government, there were many public hearing but natives claim that most of these hearings were just educational. Opposing the claims posed the government stated that proper public hearings were held to consult indigenous people and river dwellers about the impacts of Belo Monte. Leaders from the Xingu River Basin have made it clear that their right to consultation on the Belo Monte project has not been honored.

The project will directly displace over 20,000 people, mainly from the municipalities of Altamira and Vitoria do Xingú. The government justifies this by stating that this project will generate many job opportunities in the region. They are also quite sure that the Belo Monte will also attract 100,000 migrants to this region. But as a clearer picture of the future is drawn a cruel fact is unveiled, though the dam will generate over 40, 000 jobs they would all be temporary. Only 2000 long term jobs would exist for the people living in this region and others who have migrated will be illegal entrants. For the Xingu’s poor farmers, temporary employment created by the dam is not a viable replacement for lost agricultural lands and the river’s fish supply.

The dam will have adverse impact on the environment. There will be loss of vegetation and natural spaces, with changes in fauna and flora. It will create changes in the quality and path of the water supply. Apart from that there will be temporary disruption of the water supply in the Xingu riverbed for 7 months.

The protest has turned as a struggle about the future of Amazonians.

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