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  • Brazil Awards Belo Monte Dam Tender

    2010 - 04.23

    Despite fierce opposition from environmentalists Brazil has awarded the tender for a controversial hydro-electric dam project to be the world’s third largest. The government mounted a rushed appeal to beat back a last minute suspension order and since then they have pushed ahead with the bidding process to begin the construction.

    After a succession of court injunctions, which had blocked and unblocked the auction process the contract was finally awarded to Norte Energia, a consortium led by a subsidiary of the state electricity company Electrobras.

    Throughout the decision process for the Belo Monte dam environmental activists and indigenous groups staged demonstrations decrying the dam as ecologically irresponsible and a threat to the livelihood of 12,000 families. The majority of those are Brazilian Indians living on the banks of the Xingu River, which would feed the facility.

    Protestors surrounded the entrance to the National Electric Energy Agency in Brasilia, where the tender process was held and brandishing placards that read ‘We the indigenous demand justice and respect.’ Greenpeace along with roughly 500 activists also dumped three tons of manure in front of the building.

    “There are other possible energy sources, such as wind power, biomass or solar,” a Greenpeace spokesman said.

    It seems that the opponents of the construction are not deterred by the awarding of the tender and vow to continue.

    “We will not be discouraged, we will continue to demonstrate,” said Renata Pinheiro of the Xingu Vivo movement.

    The next demonstration is likely to be a planned occupation of some of the 500 square kilometres of Amazon rainforest land, which Greenpeace predicts will be flooded by the dam. Greenpeace have also claimed that the dam will also divert some 100 kilometres of the Xingu River in an area that is home to 20,000 to 30,000 families.

    It hasn’t even been built yet and the dam is already causing huge international controversy, with even James Cameron the director of ‘Avatar’ giving his support to the opponents and drawing parallels with his natives versus exploiters film. Cameron even wrote a letter to President Silva urging him to rethink the plans.

    Calling the dam an ‘affront to environmental laws’ the regional justice ministry in the state of Para tried to stall the tenders for the $10 billion Belo Monte project in a ruling. The judge ruling in the case said that there were too many questions remaining over how the huge project would affect the flora and fauna in the region as well as what would become of the families who would have to be relocated.

    However, the government is adamant that the dam is essential to its plan to boost energy production in Brazil as much as three fold over the next two decades. To give the government their due the benefits of the dam are pretty damn attractive (forgive the pun). The dam would be the third biggest in the world and has been defended by some of the local population who hope to benefit from the estimated 18,000 direct jobs and 80,000 indirect jobs that the government says the project will create. The Belo Monte dam has been estimated to cost $11.2 billion and produce 11,000 megawatts, which could potentially supply 20 million homes with power. Already hydro-electric power accounts for 73% of the energy produced in Brazil.

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