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Indigenous groups re-occupy Belo Monte dam in the Amazon

Belo Monte location. Courtesy of Google Earth.

Construction on Brazil’s megadam, Belo Monte, has been halted again as around 150 demonstrators, most of them from nearby indigenous tribes, have occupied the main construction site at Pimental. Over a hundred indigenous people joined local fishermen who had been protesting the dam for 24 days straight. Indigenous people and local fishermen say the dam will devastate the Xingu River, upending their way of life.

“The renewed occupation of the project’s earthen cofferdams paralyzed construction works, while indigenous protestors seized the keys of trucks and tractors forcing workers to leave the strategic Pimental work camp on foot,” reads a press release from the NGO Amazon Watch. Around 900 workers were sent home.

This is the second occupation attempt in less than six months. Over the summer some 300 indigenous people sustained an occupation of the dam for 21 days, before breaking it off though little headway was made in talks with consortium building the dam, Norte Energia.

The Belo Monte dam, which would be the world’s third largest, has been plagued by controversy from its origin decades ago; the battle for the dam has been fought both in Brazil’s courts and on the international stage. If built, the dam will flood an estimated 40,000 hectares of present rainforest and could push some fish species to extinction. In addition, 16,000 people will be displaced according to the government, though some NGOs say the number is more likely double that.

Despite the impacts, the dam has been strongly supported by Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, and every legal injunction against the dam has been overturned. Norte Energia has filed with a local court for repossession of the construction sties.

Indigenous groups say the construction of the dam is already imperiling their way of life, as the Xingu river becomes more difficult to navigate. They have also said they have no intention of leaving until Norte Energia meets their demands.

“We are witnessing the devastation of this land. The island of Pimental was completely destroyed, with a sole tree left standing, and the water is putrid. It is very shocking,” an protestor told Amazon Watch.

Dams are often described as ‘green’ energy source, however in the tropics they actually release significant methane emissions due to rotting vegetation. Although it has a shorter life than carbon, methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas.

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