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BRAZIL
Indigenous protest new dam
11/11/2009
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Native groups snarl river traffic to demand the government block construction of a new hydroelectric plant.

Some 200 indigenous Brazilians from 12 different ethnicities brought river traffic to a halt on the Xingu River Nov. 2, the main tributary of the Amazon River, to protest a new hydroelectric plant which will be put up for concession in December.

Their protest began Oct. 28 against the Belo Monte project. The groups have been protesting infrastructure projects on their lands for 20 years, and caught international attention.

These indigenous groups, as well as environmentalists, argue that adding to pollution caused today to the Xingu River by farming, especially of soy, the hydroelectric project would have a serious impact on the fish populations that sustain these indigenous communities. The contamination would be detrimental to their native forests and flooding would cause displacement.

But since hydroelectric power is cheap, Brazil´s government is courting large investments for these projects, to which it adds public funds as subsidies.

Energy and Mines Minister Edison Lobão was quoted by daily O Globo Oct. 29 as calling the indigenous groups “demonic forces” who tried to derail the construction of such projects.

Following his comment, the Kayapo people, one of the groups protesting, responded with a letter to President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva that stated: “We don´t want this dam to destroy the ecosystems and biodiversity that we have cared for a millennium, which we can still preserve. We want to participate in this process without being treated like diabolic demons that are paralyzing the country´s evolution.”

“We demand the government definitively cancel the implementation of this hydroelectric plant,” the letter continued. “If it decides to go ahead with the construction at Belo Monte, there will be war from the indigenous people of the Xingú.”

In a 2008 article for the Center for International Policy´s Americas Program, Glenn Switkes, director of International Rivers´ Latin America program, wrote: “If built, the Belo Monte Dam would be the world´s third largest.” It would generate 11,000 megawatts. Currently, the world´s largest hydroelectric plant is the Itaipu on the Brazilian-Paraguayan border. On Nov. 10, failed transmission lines from the Itaipu led to massive blackouts across Brazil.

Switkes estimated that at least 16,000 people would have to be relocated for the Belo Monte project. The project will be concessioned for 30 years in December and is estimated to start operations in 2014.
—Latinamerica Press.


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