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article imageControversy surrounds the building of Belo Monte dam in Amazon Special

By Kay Mathews     Apr 19, 2010 in Environment
Contract bidding on construction of the Belo Monte dam in the Amazon is scheduled to resume this week amidst heated controversy. Director James Cameron and others oppose what would be the third largest dam in the world due to impact on indigenous tribes.
As The New York Times headline reads, “Amazon Dam Project Pits Economic Benefit Against Protection of Indigenous Lands.” On one side of the debate stand environmentalists, leaders of indigenous tribes, a federal judge in Para State, and Avatar director and some cast members. On the other side stands Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, energy companies, and Jirair Aram Meguerian, a judge in Brasília who is the president of the regional federal court.
In the middle of the debate is the project known as the Belo Monte dam, which, upon construction, would be the third largest dam in the world.
According to an article in G1, Economia e Negócios, translated from Portugese to English by Sandra Lucchiari Borini:
The hydroelectric plant of Belo Monte, in the river Xingu, Pará, must be the world's third largest, behind the binational Itaipu and Three Gorges in China, and has planned investments of R$19 billion ($11 billion USD). The venture is expected to enter operation in 2015 (1st phase) and 2019 (2nd phase), and will have installed capacity of 11,000 megawatts, with physical guarantee of 4,571 average megawatts.
Map showing the Amazon watershed.
Map showing the Amazon watershed.
Santana-freitas
The dates of operation are key because those, in part, are what Judge Meguerian based his decision upon when he overruled a federal judge in Para State last Friday. The federal judge had ruled on Wednesday to suspend contract bidding scheduled this week and had suspended the environmental license for the Belo Monte dam.
According to The New York Times, Judge Meguerian found “that ‘there is no imminent danger for the indigenous community’ because the auction ‘didn’t imply immediate construction’ of the dam, ‘which involves numerous stages.’”
Members of indigenous community and others think, however, that building this dam is an imminent threat. The NYT reports that indigenous groups claim that:
The drying out of the Xingu [river] would change life as they know it. So at their meeting last month, leaders from 13 tribes made an unusual decision: They decided to create a new tribe of about 2,500, and then station it directly on the construction site, occupying it for years, if need be.
José Carlos Arara, chief of the Arara tribe, was quoted as saying, “If we lose this river we have no idea what will happen to us. The river provides us with fish and food. How will we eat if we no longer have fish? And how will we ever leave here if we no longer have the river to travel on?”
Groups such as Amazon Watch, whose goal is “to protect the rainforest and advance the rights of indigenous peoples in the Amazon Basin,” and Avatar director James Cameron, wife Suzy Amis Cameron, and Avatar cast members joined the tribes last week in protest of the construction of Belo Monte dam.
According to the NYT, “The legal seesaw [over construction of Belo Monte dam] was part of a protracted battle here over the future of such dams in indigenous territories as the government tries to meet the growing energy needs in far-away cities like São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.”
Sandra Lucchiari Borini, who is an architect living in Dracena, Brazil near São Paulo, was asked, What, in your opinion, are the pros and cons of constructing this [Belo Monte] dam? Borini indicated that the “pros are mega-power generation, because Brazil's economy is constantly growing.” Borini is “against any kind of environmental impact that a building of this order of magnitude can do, [especially] since it is located in the north, the Amazon region." Borini also noted that the “state of Para is suffering from the criminal clearing of the forest and several land conflicts are registered.”
Borini’s comments reflect the heart of the controversy and what was headlined in the NYT. Economic benefits versus protecting indigenous lands. And, the “legal seesaw” is not over. James Cameron spoke out after Judge Meguerian overturned the decision to block contract bidding on the dam. Cameron said:
When you have entrenched interests and billions of dollars, that’s a big steamroller. The international community needs to engage on this issue because it affects us all. I am sure the president [da Silva] doesn’t like us poking around in his affairs but this is an international issue.
Opponents of Judge Meguerian’s decision to proceed with contract bidding have indicated that they will file an appeal.
More about Brazil, Belo monte, Dam, Amazon
 
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