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Off and on again: Belo Monte dam goes forward, protests planned

An auction to build the Belo Monte dam, a massive hydroelectric project in Brazil, is going ahead despite two court-ordered suspensions, both of which have been overturned. The dam, which would be the world’s third-largest, has been criticized by indigenous groups, environmental organizations, and most recently filmmaker James Cameron who created the wildly popular Avatar.

Diverting the flow of Xingu River—a tributary of the Amazon River—the dam will flood 500 square kilometers of pristine rainforest, relocate 12,000 people, and, according to critics, negatively impact 45,000 indigenous people who depend on the river.

Judges have agreed. On Friday Judge Antonio Carlos de Almeida Campelo suspended the dam’s preliminary license, writing in his decision that “it remains proven, unequivocally, that Belo Monte’s plant will exploit the hydroelectric potential of areas occupied by Indigenous people who would be directly affected by the construction and development of the project.” Yet the suspension was quickly overturned.

The Xingu River from space. Photo courtesy of NASA.

“The Lula government is clearly pressuring the courts to approve Belo Monte against the rights and interests of indigenous people and the local populations of the Xingú, and it’s our lives at stake. Even so, the people affected by this dam are united and determined to stop the project, we will not give up this fight,” said Sheyla Yakarepi Juruna of the Juruna people in a press release.

Yesterday, Sheyla Yakarepi Juruna urged the President of the Appellate Court for Region 1, Jirair Meguerian, to uphold the second injunction on the dam.

The 11,000 megawatt dam would bring Brazil enough power to 23 million homes, however, during three to four months of the year the dam will only produce 10-30 percent of its capacity due to low waters.

Director James Cameron recently brought international attention to the issue after traveling to Brazil and visiting some of the indigenous groups the dam will impact. Cameron’s most recent film, Avatar, is the science-fiction story of an alien group living in harmony with their jungle planet who are forced to fight off a human-run corporation bent on mining the fragile ecosystem.

“Avatar was based on real but abstract stories. It came out of articles in National Geographic and documentaries on TV,” Cameron told the AFP. “But after meeting the indigenous people of the Amazon with whom we communicated very clearly and emotionally, it’s real for me. And it’s personal.”
Cameron said he would like to film some of the indigenous tribes he met with in Brazil “and let the world see how they live in harmony with the forest.”

Cameron has been joined by two of the film’s stars, Sigourney Weaver and Joel David Moore, in speaking out against the dam.

According to the environmental organization, International Rivers, protests against the dam in nine Brazilian cities were going forward today. Indigenous people were also arriving to the proposed dam site on Pimental Island on the Xingu River to establish a permanent village in an effort to block any dam construction.

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Brazil suspends Amazon dam project targeted by Avatar director

(04/15/2010) A Brazilian judge on Wednesday suspended the preliminary license for the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam, a controversial project in the heart of the Amazon rainforest, citing “danger of irreparable harm,” reports the Amazon Watch, an NGO that has been campaigning on the issue. The move comes just days after a high-profile visit by James Cameron, director of the box office hit Avatar, and Sigourney Weaver, one of the stars of Avatar, to indigenous communities potentially affected by the dam.

Film Director James Cameron’s Next Film on the Amazon

(04/05/2010) Fresh off his huge blockbuster success with Avatar, James Cameron is taking a commendable stand on indigenous issues in the rainforest. Flying down to Brazil’s Amazonian city of Manaus recently, the film director criticized the Belo Monte hydro electric dam project. “For people living along the river, as they have for millennia,” he said, “the dam will end their way of life. I implore the Brazilian government, and President Lula, to reconsider this project.”

James Cameron, in real life, fights to save indigenous groups from massive dam construction in Brazil

(04/01/2010) After creating a hugely successful science-fiction film about a mega-corporation destroying the indigenous culture of another planet, James Cameron has become a surprisingly noteworthy voice on environmental issues, especially those dealing with the very non-fantastical situation of indigenous cultures fighting exploitation. This week Cameron traveled to Brazil for a three-day visit to the Big Bend (Volta Grande) region of the Xingu River to see the people and rainforests that would be affected by the construction of the Belo Monte Hydroelectric Dam. Long-condemned by environmentalists and indigenous-rights groups, the dam would destroy 500 square kilometers of pristine rainforest and force the relocation of some 12,000 people.

Environmentalists and indigenous groups decry approval of massive dam in Amazon

(02/02/2010) The approval of the hydro-electric Belo Monte Dam from the Brazilian environmental agency, IBAMA, has raised condemnations from environmentalists and indigenous groups. The dam will divert the flow of the Xingu River, a tributary of the Amazon River, which runs through the Amazon in northeast Brazil. According to critics the dam will destroy vast areas of pristine rainforest, disrupt sensitive ecosystems, and relocate 12,000 people.

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