Belo Monte: Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?

Big Bad Wolf
Big Bad Wolf

In a portentous voice, Brazil's Energy Minister, Edison Lobão, last week attacked "the demoniac forces that are pulling Brazil down" by their criticisms of Belo Monte Dam. Obviously, a project of Belo Monte's marginal viability and skyrocketing cost cannot stand up to an open debate, but the words of Lobão (which literally means Big Wolf in Portuguese) bristled the fur of social movements in the Amazon who have been trying to get objective information about the dam's impacts to the public.

In a response, organizations that are part of the Xingu Forever Alive Movement wrote "given the ecological, social, and cultural importance of this region, we would have hoped that the Mines and Energy Minister, Mr. Edison Lobão, would have had a minimum of respect for the social movements and the people of the Xingu basin who question the infamous Belo Monte project...The real Demons are the ones who don't leave their offices to hear other positions. They are the ones who attack the rights of the population and in authoritarian and anti-democratic way".

In a recent meeting with construction and electric companies, as well as banks, the Mines and Energy Ministry said Belo Monte will cost $9.5 billion, or $12 billion including interest during construction. Construction companies contested these estimates, citing the logistical difficulties of building a project the size of Belo Monte in the heart of the Amazon. It was also revealed that about 200 million m3 of earth and rock would have to be moved to build the dams and the canals and dikes which are part of the project - roughly  the amount of excavation that was needed to build the Panama Canal. And, as José Ayres of Camargo Correa pointed out, "during 3-4 months of the year, during the rainy season, we can't move any earth".

Lobão told investors that "we need to hold the concession offer this year, because next year is an election year, and it will have a different logic". The concession is currently scheduled for November. The social movements in the Xingu region, paraphrasing President Lula's promise to them made at a recent meeting, said "we won't let anyone shove this project down our throats".