Moving the Land under Our Feet: Belo Monte Dam vs. Amazonians
Indigenous people of Xingu River are fighting a losing battle against a monster called Belo Monte. Construction of the world’s third largest dam is moving ahead despite the rejection and outcry of the people who have been living by the Xingu River for thousands of years.
And despite the legal challenges the Brazilian Federal Public Prosecutors Office, human rights and environmentalist NGOs presented to the Brazilian Government.
The project, originally dates back to Brazil’s military dictatorship, is being promoted as a solution to Brazil’s electricity shortages and as a ‘clean’ alternative to global change. However, the National Amazon Research Institute’s research indicates that when the forests are flooded by Belo Monte’s reservoirs, it will generate enormous quantities of methane, a greenhouse gas that is 25 times more potent than CO2.
The project will divert up to 80% of the Xingu River from its original course, causing a permanent drought on the river’s “Big Bend,” and force more than 20,000 people from their homes in the municipalities of Altamira and Vitoria do Xingu, directly affecting the Paquiçamba and Arara territories of the Juruna and Arara indigenous peoples.
There are plenty of examples in the region and around the world showing the devastating environmental and social costs of these mega-projects which mostly effect indigenous communities, leading to cultural disintegration, loss of food and clean water, rising crime rates brought by migrant workers and land speculators.
When we look at the environmental and social costs, the next question comes to our mind is, ‘who will really benefit from this project?’
Only 70% of the electricity from Belo Monte and other hydroelectric dams planned for the region would be sold to the Brazilian public. Remaining 30% will be resold to the industrial mining and other companies by the state electric utility company Eletrobras. Therefore the dam will assist the further expansion of export-oriented mining at the Vale Corporation’s Carajás iron mine and Salobo copper mine, Alcoa’s Juriti bauxite mine, and Anglo American’s Jacaré nickel mine, among others, while the Brazilian public will continue to pay the high electricity prices.
There are also many European and Brazilian companies will abundantly profit from the construction of the project. On 20 April 2010, the Norte Energia construction consortium won the project auction bid and State-owned energy company Eletronorte received the project development license. European companies Alstom, Andritz, and Voith-Siemens and Argentine Company Impsa will be providing turbines and other construction materials for the project.
Financing of the project also has been a subject of controversy. 80% of the project will be funded by the Brazilian National Development Bank (BNDES) –largest loan to be ever given by the bank- and remaining 20% will be provided by the Brazilian Government through public pension funds and the country’s workers’ insurance funds. Government’s use of public funds has been criticized as the financial risk of the project being placed on the Brazilian people.
Brazil’s Federal constitution states that when there is a project that could affect the native people and the areas they live on, a formal hearing is required. Four hearings on the issues were held after the Federal Government gave the official authorization of the project. These public hearings were held in the cities of Altamira and Vitória do Xingu which were so far away from the locations of indigenous people that, they had to travel for days by boat to reach.
According to the natives, these hearing were nothing but a parade where civil society representatives were not even admitted and the questions from the locals were ridiculed, unanswered or dismissed.
Privatization, commoditization and monopolization of water are the last frontiers in the battle between human rights and private enterprise. In the clash between the energy needs of a society and its viable environment, insistence of the Brazilian Government to built Belo Monte without considering other sustainable and environmentally sensible energy alternatives is an ignominy, and will be an eco-crime for the thousands of species that exist only in the Xingu River and the region, and will be an indirect genocide for the Indigenous people of the land.
For more information on how to support the indigenous communities and learn more about the issue, visit Amazon Watch.
Photo Source: Going To Brasil Website