Brazil accepted bids this Tuesday, April 20, to build in the Amazon what should be the world’s third-largest hydroelectric dam. Officials proceeded with the auction immediately after a judge overturned another magistrate’s injunction blocking the tender and revoking the environmental permit for the 11,000 MW Belo Monte complex.
Groups opposed to the dam, including environmentalists and leaders of indigenous communities that stand to be affected if Belo Monte is built, vow to continue legal efforts to block the 11 billion US dollars project. Only China’s Three Gorges Dam and Itaipu, jointly operated by Brazil and Paraguay, are bigger than the projected Belo Monte.
The auction, which drew bids from two consortiums, took place at the Brasilia headquarters of the National Electric Energy Agency, or Aneel, where hundreds of opponents gathered before dawn Tuesday to protest.
After dumping a small mountain of horse manure outside the building’s entrance, several Greenpeace activists chained themselves to the fence.
Critics, joined by the Brazilian Attorney General’s Office and several judges, say the proposed dam on the Xingu River would cause “serious damage” to the Amazon ecosystem, while indigenous leaders contend the construction will displace some 50,000 Indians living in the northern state of Para.
The Brazilian government says the power the dam will produce is vital for the continued expansion of Latin America’s biggest economy.
Canadian director James Cameron, best known for the blockbusters “Titanic” and “Avatar,” in which a tribe on a distant moon defends itself from encroachment by human beings seeking a precious mineral, has helped bring international attention to the cause of the Indians and grassroots groups opposing Belo Monte.
Hundreds of people, including Cameron, actress Sigourney Weaver and members of the production team of the film “Avatar,” demonstrated last week in Brasilia against the government’s plans to build the dam.
Unlike most major economies, Brazil gets most of its energy from river dams and the decision to move into the Amazon basin where many of the nation’s untapped rivers remain has become highly controversial.
Brazilian authorities argue that relying on hydropower is better for the environment than burning other sources of energy like coal or fuel oil. Environmental impact can be mitigated by planning and new technologies, they say.
However construction of the dam is sure to face additional hurdles, including protests and legal challenges. The auction process was temporarily halted three times by injunctions that were later overturned.
The Belo Monte project has been on the drawing board for decades, and controversy isn’t new.