Since the 1970s, when plans were first conceived to build a massive hydroelectric dam along the Xingu river in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon, the forces of development have had to contest with unyielding voices of protest — and it seems, for the time being, the latter has the upper hand.
Recently, counter to the aspirations of Brazilian government officials, a judge has ruled that construction on the Belo Monte dam must be halted, echoing the environmental concerns held by those in opposition to what would be the third largest facility of its type in the world — in one of the most ecologically important regions on the planet.
After decades of being locked up in litigation, namely from the thousands of indigenous community members who stand to be displaced by it, construction on the dam at Belo Monte was ultimately given the green-light earlier this year. Since then, protests have been redoubled, gaining international support from conservationists throughout the world.
And it’s no wonder, considering the facility’s potentially massive footprint. Once completed, the 11,000-megawatt dam would flood around 122 thousand acres of pristine Amazon rainforest that’s currently home to some 50 thousand mostly indigenous residents.
Supporters of the project say the facility would provide enough energy to power 23 million homes and lead to an economic boon in the region. But despite the political will to see the project through, numerous court challenges continue to offer hope to protesters — the latest concerns the legality of diverting the Xingu river.
This week, Judge Carlos Castro Martins ruled that construction must halt. A report from the BBC outlines the basis of his objections: Judge Martins barred the Norte Energia company behind the project from “building a port, using explosives, installing dikes, building canals and any other infrastructure work that would interfere with the natural flow of the Xingu river, thereby affecting local fish stocks”. He said the building of canals and dikes could have negative repercussions for river communities living off small-scale fishing. Protesters are hailing the halting of construction as a victory for their cause, albiet a modest one. The organization spearheading the project, backed by the high-ranking Brazilian officials, says they are already planning to appeal the ruling
Sketch map of the region on the BBC news update.
Photo: Protesto contra Belo Monte 28/08/2011 by dccarbone