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, in the state of Para, home to Brazil’s first indigenous reserve. In 1989 the Kayapo, a warrior tribe fearing for the health of the river that sustained them mounted a massive public campaign in opposition of its construction. International financiers soon pulled their support, and the project was shelved.
In 2007, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva announced the Accelerated Growth Program. A cornerstone of the program is the construction of over 60 major Hydroelectric projects in the Amazon over the next 15 years with Belo Monte at the forefront. The energy generated would fuel mining initiatives and power cities thousands of miles away. Now nearing completion, Belo Monte will be the fourth largest dam in the world, and is expected to displace between 20,000-40,000 people. On the neighbouring Tapajos River, the last undammed tributary of the Amazon River, the Munduruku tribe has been fighting with success to prevent a similar fate.
Hydroelectric dams are touted as clean and renewable sources of energy, but the real impact of large dams is often anything but with hundreds of square miles of land flooded and complex river ecosystems permanently transformed. In the Amazon they release huge amounts of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, while new infrastructure and population growth open the forest to increased logging, mining, and agriculture. The result is the erosion of the Amazon Rainforest and the sacrifice of cultures and communities who depend on the river and forest ecosystems for their way of life.