By Ben Tavener, Senior Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Around 300 native Indians staged a protest in Altamira, in Brazil’s northern state of Pará, yesterday, against the building of the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam on the Xingu River, including cutting through part of the dam and gathering in formation to spell out “Pare Belo Monte” (“Stop Belo Monte”), which was clearly visible from the air.

Protesters at the site of the Belo Monte dam on the Xingu River cut a path in the early earthwork, Brazil News
Protesters at the site of the Belo Monte dam on the Xingu River cut a path in the early earthwork, photo by Mitchell Anderson/Amazon Watch.

In a show of defiance and protest at the construction of the dam, which they say threatens their way of life, using pickaxes the protesters carved ditches into a stretch of a part-built earth dam, “freeing the river” and restoring the natural flow. They also planted 500 açaí trees to shore up the river bank.

The construction company said their work was not being affected by the protesters and that the project would continue, labeling the protest an opportunistic stunt to distract from UN’s Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development which began on June 13th and will see many heads of state arriving for this week’s high-level summit.

They also pointed out how Belo Monte is an example of a source of clean and renewable energy. Yet protesters say the R$19 billion (US$9.3 billion) project will have a devastating impact on the indigenous people’s livelihoods and the environment by altering the flow of the Xingu River.

“This battle is far from being over. […] We, the people who live along the banks of the Xingu, who subsist from the river, who drink from the river, and who are already suffering from of the most irresponsible projects in the history of Brazil are demanding: Stop Belo Monte,” environment campaigners Amazon Watch reported Xingu Vivo Movement coordinator Antonia Melo as saying.

The government argues that energy programs such as Belo Monte means communities will benefit, as will the state of Pará from the dam’s construction and use, and that it is satisfied minimal environmental impact will be caused. It was also announced that municipalities affected by the dam will be given R$3 million by way of compensation.

Read more (in Portuguese).

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