Belo Monte: wait, it gets worse…

30 Jul

About a year ago I began writing in the Global Kiosk about Belo Monte, the giant dam project on Brazil’s Xingu River – a project remarkably similar to one that was shelved in 1991 after worldwide and local protests that knocked the World Bank onto its heels.  Back then, the Brazilian government made a big mistake in charging an anthropologist named Darrel Posey under an obscure law that made it a crime for foreigners to criticize Brazil’s good name while abroad. Actually the mistake wasn’t so much in charging the late Mr. Posey, but the two Kaipo natives who accompanied him on that fateful trip to Washington and did most of the talking. Charging members of the country’s First Nations under a law designed for foreigners not only made headlines but also nation’s decision-makers look like the out-of-touch, narrow-minded people they actually were.

Under the Workers Party government, however, the $10 billion project has come back to life, and new details about its construction make it look worse than ever. Apparently, the load displacement of the river where the dam is slated to be built is insufficient during most of the year for barges laden with the heavy machinery needed to construct it. The existing river port is also too small to accommodate the vast fleet of machinery, and so a new port will have to constructed. That means major dredging of the river there, an activity for which no environmental assessment has been done.

What’s more, the local roads don’t allow for transporting so much equipment and materials either, so they will also have to be considerably widened or entirely rebuilt. And this implies that far more people will be moving into the area to look for jobs and commercial opportunities, ruining all and any forest for within an increasingly greater radius.

Critics of the project, including the indigenous people and settlers who live there, have long pointed out that the amount of electricity Belo Monte will generate is not enough to justify the project. There are plenty of other ways, they say, Brazil can generate the electricity it needs, including wind and solar power, not to mention starting a serious energy conservation program.

A native woman protests Belo Monte in New York.

Interestingly, at a recent protest in New York City, actress Sigourney Weaver showed up and spoke to the crowd, her role in the movie Avatar a sort of platform on which to pose her opposition to a real-life story of invasion and environmental destruction. And like the name of the fictional planet where the movie takes place, Belo Monte seems to be opening a Pandora’s Box of ever more complicated problems. The only good thing here is the fact that people are still protesting it.

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