There has been much controversy about the construction of the Belo Monte Dam in Brazil. On June 15, the people did something about it, and freed their river.
As reported on Digital Journal in April, the Belo Monte dam project is a controversial one.
It is slated to be the 3rd largest hydroelectric project in the world. This dam would divert 80% of the Xingu River's flow through artificial canals, which would flood over 600 square kilometers of rainforest.
It would also dry out a 100 kilometer stretch of the river known as the "Big Bend", home to hundreds of indigenous and riverine families.
While being sold to the public as "clean energy", Belo Monte would generate a huge amount of methane, a greenhouse gas 25-50 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
The Brazilian Government is currently hosting the Rio+20 United Nations Earth Summit. Just prior to this summit, around 3,000 kms to the north in the country's Amazon region, farmers, fishermen, activists, indigenous people and local residents, affected by the construction of the Belo Monte Dam, began a symbolic and peaceful occupation of the dam site.
Early on June 15, 300 men, women and children arrived in the hamlet of Belo Monte on the Transamazon Highway. The group then marched on to a temporary earthen dam, which has recently been built to stop the flow of the Xingu River. Local people, who will be displaced by the Belo Monte dam project, used pick axes and shovels to remove a strip of earthen dam, thus restoring the natural flow of the Xingu River.
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"Free the Xingu River" protest at Belo Monte Dam site
As shown in the photo below, the protesters gathered in formation to spell out the words "Pare Belo Monte", which means "Stop Belo Monte". This was to send a powerful message to the world before the Rio+20 U.N. Earth Summit in Rio.
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Free the Xingu River
The demonstrators are demanding the cancellation of the $18 billion dam project, which will displace thousands of residents in the area.
In an effort to stabilize the riverbank, destroyed by the initial construction of the Belo Monte Dam, demonstrators planted five hundred native açai trees. They also erected 200 crosses on the banks of the Xingu River to honor and commemorate the lives of those lost, defending the Amazon.
Demonstrators at "Free the Xingu River"
While residents were freeing the river, hundreds of other residents of Altamira took part in a march to the headquarters of dam-building consortium NESA. Altamira is a boom town of 130,000 residents, who will be severely affected by the project.
Protesters at "Free the Xingu River"
All actions are part of Xingu+23, which is a multi-day series of debates, actions and festivities commemorating the time when the Xingu residents defeated the construction of the first Belo Monte dam, 23 years ago.
Demonstrators also gathered in the community of San Antonio, which is a hamlet displaced by the dam-building consortium's base of operations.
Antonia Melo, the coordinator of Xingu Vivo Movement said, "This battle is far from being over. This is our cry: we want this river to stay alive. This dam will not be built. We, the people who live along the banks of the Xingu, who subsist from the river, who drink from the river, and who are already suffering from of the most irresponsible projects in the history of Brazil are demanding: Stop Belo Monte."
Protesters freeing the Xingu River
"The time is now! The Brazilian government is killing the Xingu River and destroying the lives of indigenous peoples. We need to send a message that we have not been silenced and that this is our territory. We vow to take action in our own way to stop the Belo Monte dam. We will defend our river until the end!" said Sheyla Juruna, a leader from the Juruna indigenous community affected by the dam.
Affected residents and demonstrators wish to highlight the glaring gap between reality and what the Brazilian government is stating, about Amazon dams as a source of "clean energy" for a "green economy."
Apparently the Belo Monte dam is just the beginning, as there are proposals for 70 large dams to be constructed in the Amazon Basin. They state that this construction is "fueled by narrow political and economic interests", but would have devastating and irreversible consequences for the Amazon, which is one of the world's most precious biomes, and also, of course, for its peoples.
While all the events were going on, a delegation of international observers and human rights advocates, including Brazilian actor Sergio Marone of the Drop of Water Movement, attended to witness and lend visibility to the actions of the protesters.
Petitions are running here and here for anyone who wishes to join the fight.
Video: Citizens of the World Against Belo Monte