Protesters paralyzing construction of Brazil’s biggest hydroelectric project are demanding a 10 percent stake in profits from the sale of energy.
Indian tribes and peasant farmers this week joined fisherman who last month seized control of a construction site at the Belo Monte dam being built in the Amazon, alleging that its operator hasn’t followed through on a pledge to invest in communities affected by the project.
Protesters submitted their demands yesterday to the federal government’s Indian agency and the Norte Energia SA consortium developing the project, said Maira Irigaray, Brazil program director for Amazon Watch, a San Francisco-based environmental watchdog. A federal judge in Altamira, the city closest to the work site, gave both sides a 48-hour deadline ending tomorrow to negotiate a resolution to the conflict.
The impasse is the latest setback for Belo Monte, which has drawn fire from celebrities including Avatar director James Cameron over plans to flood hundreds of kilometers of tribal lands and pristine forest along the Xingu River. In addition to protests and worker strikes that have delayed construction, prosecutors and the Washington-based Organization of American States are seeking to suspend work on the dam, which will generate 11,233 megawatts of energy when it’s completed in 2019.
In July, Norte Energia agreed to build schools, clinics and other infrastructure in areas affected by the dam’s construction, according to a statement from Altamira-based organization Xingu Alive Forever.
In addition to the 10 percent stake in profits, protesters are now demanding the right to fish and move freely along the river, new boats, and a monthly stipend of 3,000 reais (1,472 dollars) for families whose livelihood depends on the river.
“When negotiations finish and the last Indian leaves the area, we’ll start working again,” Fernando Santana, spokesman for the consortium, said by telephone from Rio de Janeiro. In a statement, Norte Energia said that a good part of the protesters’ demands require action from the Brazilian government.
The dam located across the Xingu River is slated to become the world’s third largest, behind Brazil’s Itaipu and China’s Three Gorges, capable of providing enough energy to light 18 million homes.
Norte Energia is led by Sao Paulo-based builder Grupo Andrade Gutierrez SA, and includes Camargo Correa SA, Queiroz Galvao SA, Grupo OAS, Odebrecht SA, and five smaller partners.