One of the first things Norte Energia – the Brazilian consortium that made the winning tender offer for the construction of the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam and power plant in the state of Pará, on the Xingu River – did was distribute free food baskets to members of the indigenous community in the area around the dam site.
Work has started on the constructions site and the food distribution was seen by Norte Energia as part of contractual obligations to protect the environment and ensure that the local Indians do not go hungry.
Immediately, an official from the Indigenous Missionary Council (Cimi), which is linked to the Catholic Church, expressed indignation and warned that as a result of the free food baskets some of the Indians have stopped planting their own crops.
“There is nothing positive in Belo Monte. The so-called environmental protection clauses in the construction contract, which are supposed to mitigate any negative impact on the local population and environment, are just making things worse,” declared Cléber Buzatto, a deputy secretary at Cimi.
“The case of the food baskets is a good example. Because of the free food some of the locals are not planting crops anymore. An external dependence is being created and these people are going to suffer the consequences.”
The news that earthmoving equipment has begun operations on the construction site at Belo Monte caused consternation among Cimi personnel.
“The news had a tremendous impact on us. The work began with a lot of legal questions still unresolved and there has been no dialogue with the local population,” says Buzatto, adding that instead of building new dams the country could just as well improve what already exists.
“Belo Monte is not necessary for Brazil and the environmental protection clauses are not sufficient to justify it,” declared Buzatto. “The country could expand its energy generation by investing in existing infrastructure. But that does not happen because it is not profitable for the big construction companies.”
The Cimi official went on to say that recent blackouts prove his point. “These blackouts are the result of a lack of investment in the existing grid. We have to upgrade turbines. We can increase energy generation by 20% just by modernizing what we have.”
Buzatto explained that Cimi intends to continue its fight against the construction of Belo Monte. “We will hold a protest soon, a symbolic act to emphasize the importance of the Xingu River and the local population’s way of life that will be negatively impacted by the Belo Monte dam.”
According to Buzatto, the local Indians just do not see the dam as a development model for them or for their future generations.
“From the Indian point of view, this hegemonic model is not sustainable. It causes climatic disasters. The Indians are also aware that the hydroelectric power plant will transform the region, bringing more violence, more prostitution, more exploitation of workers, not to mention the invasion of their lands where they have lived for thousands of years,” said Buzatto.