Belo Monte Construction Shut Down by Protestors

Ian Elwood

Movimento Xingu Vivo para Sempre stops construction at Belo Monte's Pimental work site
Movimento Xingu Vivo para Sempre stops construction at Belo Monte's Pimental work site

In the first days of the New Year, Brazilian contractors quietly started blockading the Xingu River to allow construction to start on the massive Belo Monte Dam. Often called the "Pandora Dam" by mainstream media because of James Cameron’s support for the struggle against it, the hydroelectric project could become the world’s third largest. While construction had started on roads and associated works several months ago, the building of coffer dams to divert the flow of the river started during the Brazillian new year holiday, presumably to sidestep the scrutiny of civil society, NGOs and regional activists. But escape scrutiny it did not.

The Movimento Xingu Vivo para Sempre organized an action to stop construction of the coffer dams on January 18th, denouncing the illegitimate process and lack of consultation that have become a hallmark of the Belo Monte Project. For two hours a small but determined group of protestors blocked work from continuing on Belo Monte's Pimental site, and informed the workers about the damage the dam would have in their community.

Antônia Melo, coordinator of the Xingu Vivo movement, called the project a “crime of the Federal Government” and said, "To take away the river is to take away the life of its people, because water is life."

The endangered Zebra Pleco (hypancistrus zebra)
The endangered Zebra Pleco (hypancistrus zebra)

Much damage has already been caused construction in the region. Clearing rainforest, building roads – and the telltale sign of dam construction in the region, red mud that clouds the water of the Xingu river – all make water dangerous to drink, pollute the river, kill fish and threaten the habitat of endangered species, such as the endangered Zebra Pleco.

The construction activities have already degraded the water quality of the Arara indigenous tribe. The tribe has appealed to the Public Prosecutor of the state of Pará to file a lawsuit against dam builder Norte Energia S.A. to recoup damages and try to reclaim some of their lost livelihood.

Josinei Arara, a member of a threatened Arara indigenous community nearby said, "The dam builders have kept none of their promises to compensate our village; in they meantime, they're assassinating our river." 

The fate of the Xingu river looks grim, but indigenous communities across the Amazon will continue to fight against further construction with the Movimento Xingu Vivo para Sempre.

With water quality being impacted so severely this early on in construction, and the other impacts that are causing harm to indigenous communities such as the Arara, Norte Energia is in clear violation of the Brazilian Constitution and international standards – the project should be immediately cancelled and rights violators should be held accountable.

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