Tensions run high at Amazon dam protest

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Amazon Indians mark the end of a five-day protest against the Belo Monte hydroelectric project, by swimming in the Xingu River, which they say the dam will destroy. The proposed dam will be one of the world’s largest hydroelectric power plants. Tensions ran high and turned to violence as the week progressed. While the government has presented the project as a sustainable energy option, critics say that the environmental and social costs are unacceptable.

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Story Transcript

VOICE OF REKHA VISWANATHAN: Tensions ran high in Brazil this week as activists and Amazon Indians gathered to protest a plan for a multi-billion dollar dam. The Belo Monte Dam will be one of the world’s largest hydroelectric power plants. If implemented, it could flood 170 square miles and displace thousands of people living along the Xingu River. While the government has presented the project as a sustainable energy option, many say that the environmental and social costs are unacceptable.

HERCULANO COSTA SILVA, PRESIDENT, MIDDLE XINGU ASSOCIATION (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): If it is built it will destroy a lot of things, including our population of traditional river dwellers. I think all will be destroyed.

VISWANATHAN: Critics add that the proposed dam will be inefficient and will not be feasible without developing other dams upstream.

GLENN SWITKES, INTERNATIONAL RIVERS NETWORK: Our studies, and studies by other experts, including some engineers from the companies that want to build the dam, have shown that Belo Monte would generate little or no energy during the three to five months of the year when the river level is extremely low. From an economic point of view, this doesn’t make any sense. And that leads us to believe that there are plans for more dams upstream.

VISWANATHAN: As the week progressed, tension turned to violence after a presentation by Electrobras engineer Paulo Fernando Resende.

SWITKES: The meeting had a very strong and unfortunate incident where the Kayapo Indians were revolted at a presentation made by a Brazilian electric company, state electric company representative, and attacked him, knocking him down, and he was taken away to a hospital. He wasn’t severely injured, but that has made international news. We’re facing a situation where tens of thousands of people living along these rivers would be displaced, would lose their livelihood. And I think for that reason—it’s not to justify the violence that took place, but I think we can at least understand the desperation that indigenous people are feeling at this point.

VISWANATHAN: Electrobras condemned the incident, saying that plans for the Belo Monte Dam would not be deterred by protests. The Brazilian government proposes to spend $296 billion in the next two years alone on hydroelectric dams and roads. To mark the end of the five-day protest, hundreds of Amazon Indians swam in the river they say the dam will destroy.

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Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.