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Indigenous groups sent to occupy Amazon dam site: chief

Brazil to go ahead with Amazon dam
Brasilia, Brazil (UPI) Apr 21, 2010 - Brazil is going ahead with the controversial Bel Monte hydroelectric power project, likely to be the world's third largest, despite international criticism the dam will ruin Amazonian ecology and indigenous lifestyles. The government drew bids for the $11 billion project in a hotly opposed auction marked by emotional scenes at the Brasilia headquarters of the National Electric Energy Agency. Hundreds of protesters converged on Aneel's building ahead of the auction and campaigners vowed to challenge the government in the courts.

In an ironic twist it emerged that funding for the project will draw on pension funds and other public money. Critics point out the dam complex on the Xingu River will be energy-inefficient and not needed if Brazil mounts, instead, an energy saving program. A World Wildlife Fund report in 2007 said Brazil could cut its expected demand for electricity by 40 percent by 2020 by investing in energy efficiency. The power saved would be equivalent to 14 Belo Monte hydroelectric plants and would result in national electricity savings of up to $19 billion, the report said.

The government of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has sights set on industrial expansion that will see the bulk of the dam's 11,000-megawatt production going into high-consumption industrial plants, such as those processing bauxite into aluminum. So determined was the government in going ahead with the project that the auction took place immediately after a judge overturned another magistrate's injunction blocking the tender and revoking the environmental permit for the complex. The campaign against the dam has attracted international opponents, including Hollywood star Sigourney Weaver and Canadian film director James Cameron, whose recent film, "Avatar," about a tribe on a distant moon fighting human encroachment resonates with the anti-dam campaigners. The critics were joined by the Brazilian Attorney General's Office and several judges.

Several Greenpeace activists dumped a horse manure outside the Aneel headquarters entrance, then chained themselves to the fence. If and when built, Belo Monte will be Brazil's second largest dam after Itaipu, jointly operated with Paraguay, and the world's third largest, after China's Three Gorges Dam. Opponents argue Belo Monte will only use 10 percent of its 11,233-megawatt installed capacity during the 3-5 month dry season and less than 40 percent of its nominal capacity in other months. To guarantee a year-round flow of water, the government may need to build other dams on the Xingu river and tributaries, with adverse consequences for the local environment and indigenous citizens of Brazil.

China to lend 700 million dollars for Congo dam
Brazzaville (AFP) April 21, 2010 - China will lend Congo around 700 million dollars (nearly 520 million euros) to build a hydroelectric dam in its north Sangha region, Congo's energy ministry said Wednesday. The loan agreement was signed by Energy Ministry official Ignace Ta-Liane Tchibamba and the vice-president of the Chinese company SinoHydro, Zeng Xingliang. SinoHydro is due to start construction of the dam in June 2011, which should provide hydroelectric power for the whole northern region of the central African country. "The total cost of the work has not yet been established. Currently we estimate it will be approximately 700 million dollars, but this number will be refined", a director in Congo's Energy ministry Jean Marie Iwandza said. SinoHydro is already active in neighbouring Cameroon and Gabon, and China financed 85 percent of the construction of another dam in north Congo in 2003.
by Staff Writers
Brasilia (AFP) April 21, 2010
Indigenous activists threatened a clash with Brazil's government as they dispatched boats carrying 150 men Wednesday to occupy the planned site of a controversial hydro-electric dam in the Amazon, a chief said.

Environmentalists, indigenous groups and local residents lost a protracted court battle to halt the bidding process for the giant Belo Monte dam, projected to be the world's third-largest.

Brazil awarded the tender Tuesday to Norte Energia, a consortium led by a subsidiary of state electricity company Electrobras, which will hold a 49.98-percent stake in the project.

"Boats are in the process of leaving and we hope to occupy the territory tomorrow (Thursday). We will build a permanent village there and will not leave so long as the project is on," chief Luiz Xipaya told AFP.

"The indigenous people feel threatened by this project and are very agitated," said Xipaya, who presides over a council of elders.

Around 150 Brazilian Indians will initially set up camp at the dam site, but Xipaya warned that "we would like to number 500 by the end of the month and ask for reinforcements.... Our goal is to place 1,000 Indians there."

Greenpeace estimates that 500 square kilometers (193 square miles) of Amazon rainforest will be flooded and says the dam's construction will also divert a stretch of the Xingu River into an area that is home to up to 30,000 families.

The activist group led a demonstration Tuesday outside the gates of electric energy agency Aneel in Brasilia to protest the award of the tender, while the Amazon Watch organization said thousands of people demonstrated in nine Brazilian cities against the plans.

The dam has some heavyweight opponents with "Avatar" director James Cameron and star Sigourney Weaver giving their backing and drawing parallels with the natives-versus-exploiters storyline of the blockbuster Hollywood movie.

The regional justice ministry in the state of Para tried to stall tenders for the 11-billion-dollar-plus Belo Monte project, calling the dam "an affront to environmental laws."

It said too many questions remained over how the massive project would affect flora and fauna in the region and what would become of the families who would have to be relocated.

Brazil's government had been pushing the massive project for more than 20 years.

The government of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva remained determined to push through the dam, calling it essential to its plans to boost energy production nearly three-fold over the next two decades in Brazil, Latin America's biggest economy.

Authorities would be hard-pressed to get the new dam system up and running before two major global events looming in Brazil's future: the 2014 World Cup football tournament followed by the 2016 Olympic Games.

Opponents said they were standing firm.

"We will not get discouraged. We will continue to demonstrate and indigenous communities will occupy the area," Renata Pinheiro of the Xingu Vivo movement, which brings together residents, local groups and environmentalists, told AFP.

For construction costs of 11.2 billion dollars, Belo Monte is expected to be able to produce 11,000 megawatts, which could supply 20 million homes with power.

The dam would be the third-largest after China's Three Gorges facility, which produces 18,000 megawatts, and Brazil's Itaipu dam (14,000 MW) in the south on the border with Paraguay.

Belo Monte has been defended by some locals who hope to benefit from the estimated 18,000 direct jobs and 80,000 indirect jobs that the government says the project will create.

Hydro-electric power accounts for 73 percent of the energy produced by Brazil.

But its energy grid is fragile, as evidenced by a massive blackout last November which left more than a third of Brazil's 190 million people without power for several hours.

The power failure was seen as an embarrassment for Lula's administration and led to questions about Brazil's energy stability for the 2016 Olympics to be hosted by Rio de Janeiro.

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Brazil awards dam tender despite environmental protests
Brasilia (AFP) April 20, 2010
Brazil on Tuesday speedily awarded the tender for a controversial hydro-electric dam projected to be the world's third-largest, despite fierce opposition from environmentalists. The government pushed ahead with the bidding process to begin construction of the giant Belo Monte dam after beating back a last-minute suspension order with a rushed appeal. The tender was awarded to Norte Energ ... read more

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