James Cameron at a press conference to stop Belo Monte Dam; photo from International Rivers (source: Flickr Creative Commons)

Plans for the construction of a massive hydroelectric dam in the Brazilian Amazon have experienced some recent setbacks in the form of back and forth legal action as well as controversy over indigenous rights and environmental issues. As of Friday, however, bids for construction contracts are again set to move forward on the previously planned date of April 20th.

The Belo Monte dam project, set to be located on the Amazon’s Xingu River, will be the world’s third largest hydroelectric plant of its kind. It is part of a Brazilian government initiative to fuel economic expansion and recovery while mitigating greenhouse gas emissions.

An article in the New York Times states that Brazil uses hydroelectric power for over 80% of its energy needs. The US Energy Information Administration, puts the amount at 36% – a far smaller, but still a significant share.

Critics claim the Belo Monte project will force native Amazonian tribes from their homelands and result in environmental damage to one of the world’s most important ecosystems.

To build Belo Monte, builders would have to excavate two huge channels larger than the Panama Canal to divert water from the main dam to the power plant. The reservoir would flood more than 160 square miles of forest while drying up a 60-mile stretch of the Xingu River, displacing more than 20,000 people, many from indigenous communities, according to non-governmental groups citing government figures.

–New York Times

Celebrities have leant their voices to the cause to stop the construction of the Belo Monte dam. Notably, Sting – a longtime proponent of the rights of the Brazilian Amazon’s indigenous peoples – and more recently, Avatar director James Cameron and actress Sigourney Weaver.

From an article in the Guardian:

Until last month Cameron had never been to the Brazilian Amazon, home to the world’s greatest tropical rainforest. Now, however, he has become the figurehead of an international campaign against Amazon destruction and specifically the multibillion-dollar Belo Monte hydroelectric dam project, which many of the Xingu region’s indigenous residents believe will wreak havoc in communities, flooding land in some places, drying up rivers in others and triggering an influx of workers, prostitution and disease.

Some Brazilian press articles have characterized Cameron’s criticism of the Brazilian government’s plans as ‘colonialist’, which is a bit ironic considering the nature of the hydroelectric project in relation to native Amazonians. Indeed, Cameron likens what is happening now in Brazil to the US government’s treatment of Native Americans in the 1800s – something that inspired him to make the film Avatar.

Additional resources:

BBC News: Judge allows start of bids on controversial Brazil dam

About The Author: Graham Land

Greenfudge editor and London-based writer Graham Land grew up in the suburbs of Washington, DC, where he was part of the local hardcore punk scene, playing in several bands. Through this musical movement he became involved in grass roots interests such as anti-racist activism, animal rights and Ecology. In 2000 he relocated to Europe, eventually earning an MA from Malmö University in Sweden. He has also lived in Japan, Ireland, Portugal and Greece.


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