Indigenous Brazilians fight Amazon dam project (big photo gallery)


Native Brazilians from the Amazon basin demonstrate against the construction of the planned Belo Monte hydroelectric dam, in Brasilia February 8, 2011. Proposed to be built along the Xingu River in the state of Para, the dam would be the world's third largest at planned capacity, though environmentalists and native Brazilians have raised concerns that the project may displace indigenous tribes and damage the environment. Here is a recap of the issue on Global Voices, and below, more photographs from the protest this week.

(photos: REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino)


RTXXM1A.jpgAbove, a protester eats ice cream.

RTXXM0X.jpg The sign with a portrait of President Dilma Rousseff reads, "Stop Belo Monte."

RTXXM0Q.jpg The sign above reads, "No Belo Monte dam on the Xingu."

RTR2D1VD.jpg Brazilian indigenous people protest outside Brazil's electric energy agency Aneel in Brasilia April 20, 2010, against the construction of the Belo Monte Hydroelectric power plant in the Xingu River. Aneel suspended the auction of the 11,000 megawatt Belo Monte hydroelectric dam that was scheduled for midday (1500 GMT) on Tuesday because of an injunction filed by a public prosecutor in a federal court, ordering it to suspend the auction. Aneel is prepared to go ahead even if the injunction is overturned just minutes before the established time for the auction of the high profile hydroelectric project.

RTR2D1VY.jpg A Greenpeace member protests outside Brazil's electric energy agency Aneel in Brasilia April 20, 2010, against the construction of the Belo Monte Hydroelectric power plant in the Xingu River.


  1. It “might” displace people and damage the environment?
    Is there actually any doubt? You’re making a giant lake, of course anyone who lives in the area will have to move and a huge swath of the area will effectively vanish.

  2. in the first pic, is the fold in that guys ear just from stretching it out (like the girl with the lip disk) or is it just shaped that differently than mine?

    healthy set of moobs on these guys in pic 4

    1. (i think thats a guy with the lip disk….)

      i dont mean to pick on these people. im in awe of the great photos of people way different than me, i fascinated by different cultures, and all cultures have moobs as far as i know, these guys are just great examples.

    2. Girl with the lip-disk? The man with the lip disk (bogodó) is the supreme chief of the Kayapó, called Raoni. He has been fighting the Belo Monte dam ever since the eighties. Then in company of pop singer Sting; It stopped the government for a while, but now the Belo Monster is out of the box again.

  3. Even if a people does not recognize a formal system of property rights, they still HAVE property rights.

    If any system of “law” is to rise above mere banditry, it must respect them.

    If their land will be flooded or otherwise destroyed, that is simply criminal. The end.

  4. This isn’t a matter of simple land rights. The riverwater and types fish people live off of change and may be eradicated altogether. The reservoirs also create submerged areas where mercury in the soil, from years of cheap gold mining deposition, leaches out and is eventually able to be metabolized into the food chain, poisoning the people that have relied on these rivers.

    They are losing their homes, traditional foodsources, and health with one fell swoop.

  5. Just to play devils advocate – its very easy for us to sit back in our electrically heated (or cooled), electrically lit homes, at our computers (or other electrical gadget with online access) and say “Well, clearly this is wrong.”

    But do not the people of Brazil have a right to the same access to electrical power as we do? Whatever choice they make with regards to providing power to their developing population, somebody will be against it. If we accept that the entire world has the same rights to luxuriate in electrically driven consumer products, we have to accept that some form of power generating system will be built or else be tremendous hypocrites.

    Most of us do not live in countries where the electrical generation is mostly clean but that does not stop us from using electricity to power luxuries rather than necessities.

    So… accepting that they have the right to some sort of powergeneration, and that no power generation system is going to be 100% environmentally friendly (and I include the local human population as part of the environment), the real question is what is the best trade off for high generation, low impact and affordable cost that they can build? Would we prefer nuclear plants? Vast solar arrays (requiring vast jungle clearance, perhaps)? Massive wind farms? Fossil fuel burning stations as used in the USA and UK?

  6. @ Anon, why do you believe we have a right to power generation? We are used to it, and take it for granted, but have never thought about these things on a global scale, or anything like it. We don’t have a right, we simply take and exploit others to ensure that we cqan continue taking, without respect for their rights. We have set a pattern which others may struggle to copy but the land and its people should be consulted before we claim to have rights over them.

    1. Give 300 years there will be no more indigenous people left on earth. We’ll be a technological society. It is a natural progression of our human development. There is no turning back.

  7. The reason we judge from afar is out of experience and the knowledge gained from it. We have been down this path and hopefully have learned something from our mistakes.

    Secondly, while some of the power goes towards growing cities, the majority of these power projects are to lower costs of energy-intensive industries, primarily aluminum smelting.

    This is a government directive to support a well organized and funded politically backed industry (mining and metal production) at the expense of the least organized and politically-able groups.

    Every decision has trade-offs, but this isn’t the admirable 3rd world “tough-choices and bootstraps” modernization mirage we like to imagine reflected in China. It is an injustice that their lives and heritage have been valued by an outside party, put in place to protect the people, less than the cost of aluminum.

  8. But do not the people of Brazil have a right to the same access to electrical power as we do?

    I guess you don’t count the indigenous groups as any of “the people of Brazil”, then. People who don’t seem to want electricity at the expense of their culture and lives.

  9. In Panamá my country, indigenous groups are also fighting against mining projects. Panamanian Gov, is trying to approve controversial laws without consulting the opinion of the rest of the country:
    Controversial mining law green-lighted

    It’s obvious that members of the Gov. will receive any amount of money if these projects are approved. Corruption.

  10. There is a demand for electricity. It will be be met, one way or another. Hence, looking at the impact of hydropower in a vacuum is fallacious, because you’re only looking at half the picture. What we should be doing is comparing the impact of hydropower with the alternative it would be replacing, namely fossil fuels. So in addition to completely changing the local ecosystem, it would also eliminate a great deal of burning natural gas, oil, and coal per year, indefinitely (hydropower being a renewable resource).

    I’m not saying I support it, just that a more honest analysis is called for, as we sit here using most likely coal-powered computers to criticize Brazil, which gets 80% of its electricity from renewable sources.

    1. Moriarty FTW!

      I love dams, big, beautiful, environmentally friendly hydro dams.

      It is certainly possible to build dams that are not big, not beautiful, and dams that are environmentally destructive. But the idea that all dams are bad is stupid.

      After 20 years of study, I can tell you that there are good dams and bad dams. The only people who dispute this are willfully blind know-nothings and people with political axes to grind. These people often typify Heinlein’s objection to rabid environmentalism – There are hidden contradictions in the minds of people who “love Nature” while deploring the “artificialities” with which “Man has spoiled ‘Nature.'” The obvious contradiction lies in their choice of words, which imply that Man and his artifacts are not part of “Nature” — but beavers and their dams are.

      The people displaced by a project like this should be integrated into the project plan, and they should end up being major beneficiaries. Give anyone in their community a 100% free world-class education if they want it, that’s never a bad idea, and encourage them to study ecology and hydro engineering. Give them worthwhile (not make-work) jobs, respect their culture, allow them land elsewhere if they choose to reject these things and continue a traditional agrarian or hunter/gatherer lifestyle.

      It’s not a choice between crushing a people, building a environmental disaster, and sending the profits to rich parasites on the one hand, or continuing to burn coal and destroy jungle for factory farms on the other. There is always a Middle Path; that is the lesson of the Buddha.

  11. Dams are terrible and those people have a right to that land. Dams only have a 50-100 year lifespan (per my geology prof). It won’t last that long and the damage lasts for a very long time. Perhaps even permanently if a threatened species is driven extinct. It’s a bad plan. Put up some wind turbines or even make a nuke plant. I’d consider them greener all things considered.

  12. it is a myth that hydropower is “clean”. In fact, there is a lot of confusion between the concept of clean, renewable and sustainable energy. Whereas hydropower might be clean in the sense that it does not emit toxins (like oil and coal plants may), it is not “clean” in the sense of diminishing the green house effect. Because hydroelectrics emit large quantities of CO2 and methane (google Fearnside, among others).
    The same way, one may argue that hydropower is renewable, as the river will always keep flowing as part of the water cycle (as long as the rains continues falling in that region, which, by the way, is questioned for the Amazon – see latest issue of Science). However, renewable does not necessarily mean sustainable. Sustainability involves a whole set of criteria, among them renewability, lasting impact on the environment, green house gas emissions, impacts on the social environment, distribution of possible profits (in the broad sense of the world), etcetera.
    It is in that sense that hydropower is not a sustainable energy source. At least not in most places, and definitely not in tropical, biodiversity hotspots like the Amazon region, inhabited by indigenous, riverine and other traditional communities. Belo Monte will flood big areas, ranches, will force tens of thousands of people from their homes, etc.

    Meanwhile Brazil does have plenty of really clean alternatives, as pointed out by the civil society: Brazil has plenty of sun and wind, there is a world to gain in energy efficiency, repowering existing hydroelectrics, dimishing energy transportation losses (15% in Brazil, compare to 5% in the States and Europe, 1% in Japan).

    So it is not a question of “We don´t want Brasil to have progress”. The debate is about what kind of progress Brazil should strive for, what kind of energy model.

    I personally don´t think that should include the destruction of the Amazon forest. We are smarter than that nowadays, aren´t we?

  13. Don’t these indigenous know that hydroelectric power can be used to make eyeglasses and ice cream? (pic 3).

    Jenkins atuto

Comments are closed.