Plans for the Belo Monte Dam Complex began in 1975 under the apex of military dictatorship in Brazil. It would be built on the Xingu River, home to Brazil’s first indigenous reserve. In 1989 the Kayapo, a warrior tribe who feared for the river’s health, mounted a massive public campaign in opposition of its construction. International financiers pulled their support, and the project was shelved.
In 2007, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva announced the Accelerated Growth Program, the largest investment package to spur economic growth in Brazil in the past 40 years. A cornerstone of this program is the industrialization of the Amazon with the construction of over 60 major Hydroelectric projects; Belo Monte is at the forefront. The energy generated will fuel local mining initiatives and power cities thousands of miles away. Nearing completion, Belo Monte is considered the third largest dam in the world, and has already displaced over 20,000 indigenous and riverine people. On the neighbouring Tapajos River, the Munduruku tribe are fighting to prevent a similar fate.
Hydroelectric dams are touted as clean and renewable sources of energy, yet hundreds of square miles of land are flooded and complex river ecosystems permanently transformed while new infrastructure and population growth open the forests to increased logging, mining, and agriculture. Under the guise of renewable energy we are eroding the Amazon Rainforest and sacrificing the cultures and communities who depend on this precious ecosystem for their sustainable ways of life.