Nearing Completion, Belo Monte Dam Receives Criticisms From All Sides

Changes in the Xingu river flow bring issues to wildlife and forces the local communities to change thei way of life

Fabiano Maisonnave

The river started to change at the end of 2015 when Belo Monte Dam split the Xingu in two. At Volta Grande, home to macaws and the Juruna tribe, water runs low. Tens of miles upriver, the dam covered houses and farms. In both communities, the new reality brings an uncertain future.

One of the most feared consequences is the extinction of indigenous fishes to Volta Grande, a habitat different from the rest of the Xingu basin because of its group of rocks and rip currents.

In a recent letter to Folha, Norte Energia's superintendent for social, environmental and indigenous affairs admitted that research on the changes at Volta do Rio Grande "are inconclusive" but blamed the wane of zebra pleco fishes to animal traffickers.

Norte Energia said in a statement sent to Folha that the environmental conditions around Volta Grande are kept stable by a "hydrograph of consensus" - a model that establishes the minimum river flow rate to keep the area environmentally healthy, including animal preservation and assuring the community's traditional way of life.

Leonardo Batista, 59, visits what's left from his brother's house in a now flooded island in the Xingu river. - Folhapress

"Life changed, everything changed. And nothing is worth it - not having cars, nor trucks, nor small buses, nor houses nor good schools," says community leader Bel Juruna, 31, about Norte Energia's improvements.

"None of that makes up to what we had before, which was the assurance that this place offered means to a living. Now we have all this stuff, but we are missing the most important thing, that is the assuredness that we can stay here."

In total, 270 riverine families, who lived in areas that were flooded, are waiting for relocations.
One of the main leaders, fisherman Leonardo Batista, aka Aranor, 59, has been relocated. As part of his restitution, Norte Energia gave him a house in Altamira, currently one of the most violent towns in Brazil.

"They didn't respect anyone's rights," says Aranor, who still doesn't have his plot of land. "They wanted to tire us, but we keep on fighting."

"Even after 24 lawsuits already filed, I think we still can't fully measure the damages of Belo Monte Dam, especially because no actions were taken to ensure the project's viability, such as the protection of indigenous lands," says Thais Santi, federal attorney general in Altamira.

"The social and environmental cost of the whole enterprise was transferred to the people hit by it. We need to know how much this destruction cost to find out the real cost of the energy produced at Belo Monte."

(With Lalo de Almeida)

Translated by NATASHA MADOV

Read the article in the original language