Hundreds of campaigners have occupied the construction site of the Belo Monte dam project in the Brazilian Amazon. They are demanding that work on the multi-billion dollar dam be stopped, arguing that it would displace thousands of indigenous people and damage the environment. The protesters, many of them members of indigenous groups, said they would stay at the site indefinitely. The government says the project is crucial to meeting energy needs. The Indian Missionary Council, an organisation backed by the Catholic Church, said more than 600 Indians, fishermen and locals had occupied the site and the road leading to it. A spokesman for the Council told the AFP news agency the occupation was peaceful and there had been no incidents. The Council demanded the government send representatives to negotiate with the indigenous groups, who they say would suffer from the building of the dam.
“In the face of the government’s intransigence and its insistence on disrespecting us, we now occupy the Belo Monte construction site and block access to it from the Transamazon highway,” the Council stated on its website. The BBC’s Paulo Cabral in Sao Paulo says a local judge has told the protesters to leave the site or face a $300 (£185) daily fine.
Building work on the dam was halted last month after a judge ruled against it on environmental grounds, but the construction of accommodation blocks for the project’s workers was allowed to continue. Judge Carlos Castro Martins barred any work that would interfere with the natural flow of the Xingu river. He ruled in favour of a fisheries group which argued that the Belo Monte dam would affect local fish stocks and could harm indigenous families who make a living from fishing.
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 dykes could have negative repercussions for river communities living off small-scale fishing. The consortium behind the project is expected to appeal against the decision.
In June, the Brazilian environment agency backed the construction, dismissing concerns by environmentalists and indigenous groups who argue that it will harm the world’s largest tropical rainforest and displace tens of thousands of people. The agency, Ibama, said the dam had been subjected to “robust analysis” of its impact on the environment. The 11,000-megawatt dam would be the third biggest in the world – after the Three Gorges in China and Itaipu, which is jointly run by Brazil and Paraguay.