Brazil signs contract for controversial Amazon hydroelectric dam

Brasilia, Aug 27 (Calcutta Tube) President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has signed the contract for construction of a massive new hydroelectric dam in Brazil’s Amazon region, a project opponents say will displace some 50,000 Indians.

‘What is happening here is a thing believed impossible years ago. The project we are initiating today is less aggressive than the original one,’ Lula said in a ceremony at the presidential palace Thursday.

The Minister of Mines and Energy, Marcio Zimmermann, said the Bela Monte complex, to be built near the mouth of the Xingu River in the northern state of Para, will ‘play an important role in the development’ of the area.

People displaced by the dam ‘will be duly compensated’ under a formula that they will help determine, said the president of the Bela Monte enterprise, Carlos Nascimento.

The contract to build the complex was awarded to a consortium led by state-owned Companhia Hidro Eletrica do Sao Francisco. The government estimates the 11,233 MW dam will cost 20 billion reais.

Once complete, Belo Monte will be the world’s third-largest hydroelectric dam after China’s Three Gorges and the Itaipu complex, which is shared by Brazil and Paraguay.

The project has raised a storm of protest, with Brazilian judges and Hollywood notables joining environmentalists and indigenous organisations in opposing it.

In April, ‘Avatar’ director James Cameron and two members of the film’s cast, Sigourney Weaver and Joel David Moore, took part in marches in Brasilia to support grassroots groups that oppose Belo Monte, which will involve not only a giant dam on the Xingu River, but wide channels to carry water to the power plant.

Critics, joined by the Brazilian Attorney General’s Office and several judges, say the proposed dam would cause ‘serious damage’ to the Amazon ecosystem, while the Brazilian government says the dam is vital for the continued expansion of Latin America’s biggest economy.

The contract signing was a ‘scandalous affront to international human rights conventions, Brazilian legislation and the country’s constitution’, the Catholic Church-linked Indigenous Missionary Council said Thursday.

Various global accords on indigenous rights demand the ‘prior, free and informed consent’ of communities to public projects that will have an impact on their lives, the council said.

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