Nov 30, 2009
From: Monsters and Critics.com
The battle between preservation and development is red-hot in the Brazilian portion of the Amazon rainforest.
In the Xingu region, indigenous communities are getting their war paint ready: they are furious about Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's decision to build a controversial hydroelectric plant in the area.
For the government, the massive Belo Monte plant is vital to guarantee the power supply in Amazonia, to generate jobs and to secure better living standards for people in the region.
'Don't ask me to make 25 million people living in Amazonia live at the mercy of 'muricocas' (a type of mosquito). Those people want development, they want industrialization, they want to have a car, a television, a phone,' Lula said recently.
In recent weeks, Brazil committed to reducing its current emissions of greenhouse gases by up to 38.9 per cent by 2020. Officials hope to attain half of this emissions cut by an 80 per cent reduction in deforestation of the Amazon rainforest.
Significantly, the expansion of hydroelectric energy plants is regarded as another important factor in the effort to cut down the emissions of harmful gases.
For the 15 indigenous nations living in the area where the controversial plant is set to be built, however, Belo Monte represents not the dream of a better life, but rather a major threat, dangerous enough to spur an armed resistance to the project.
In a letter to Lula earlier this month, more than 280 indigenous leaders warned that there will be war in the Xingu region if the project goes ahead as planned.
'We do not accept Belo Monte and we will not allow it to materialize. If the government launches construction, it will have to take responsibility for the safety of its representatives, because there will be clashes and even deaths. There will be a war,' warned indigenous leader Poy Kayapos.
Indigenous peoples are not alone in their resistance to Belo Monte.
According to a report drafted by several experts at the request of the non-governmental organization Socio-Environmental Institute (ISA), Belo Monte - the main energy project in Lula's Growth Acceleration Programme (PAC) - is not financially viable and only aims to attract to the region intensively-power-consuming industries.
'It is an extremely complex work, which will at the same time flood land and drastically reduce the supply of water in a 100- kilometre stretch around the Long Turn of the Xingu river, which flows through many communities and through two indigenous reserves,' said analyst Francisco Hernandez, an engineer.
The indigenous groups also have the support of organizations like Greenpeace and religious groups like the Missionary Council for Indigeous Peoples (Cimi). They accuse the government of not having consulted with local tribes.
For Agnelo Xavante, a representative of an indigenous nation with the same name, the plant will reduce the volume of water in the Xingu river, which will chase away the fish that are a staple in the diet of indigenous peoples.
He further estimates that Belo Monte will lead to the displacement of around 20,000 people and will attract 100,000 people from outside the region to the area surrounding the plant, which will in turn increase deforestation.
'The government should bear in mind the position of indigenous communities. We are also part of the people, but the government does not consult us and does not talk to us. We reject not just the construction of Belo Monte but also that of any other hydroelectric plant near indigenous land,' Agnelo Xavante said.
One of the resistance movement's leaders, Raoni Metuktire, commanded in early November a protest that blocked the way for hours for the huge rafts that take lorries across the Xingu river, between the Brazilian states of Mato Grosso and Para.
'The (only) good thing is to leave the river alone, without dams,' Metuktire stressed.
Such complaints have not, so far, prompted the Brazilian government to change plans. The auction for construction firms interested in the project is set to take place in January. The plant is set to be operational by 2014, with a capacity to generate 11,233 megawatts of electricity.
The Brazilian state organ in charge of protecting the interests of indigenous peoples, the National Foundation of Indians (Funai), issued a report in favour of the project in October.
Funai president Mercio Meira controversially said that Belo Monte would not affect indigenous communities in the area that will be flooded to build the plant.
Xingu Bishop Erwin Krautler, however, insists that the hydroelectric plant threatens the communities' very survival.
'We want to prevent the Lula government from going down in history as the government which dictated the extinction of indigenous peoples in the Xingu region,' the religious leader said, in a public message addressed to the government.