Since workers broke ground on Brazil’s largest hydroelectric dam, Belo Monte, resistance to the project has been
constant. In April 2012, just a few months after construction began, Belo Monte employees went on strike demanding
an increase in both wages and visits with family. Later in June, activists from the region’s large indigenous community
occupied part of the site protesting the dam’s failure to fulfill commitments to reduce environmental impacts. The
occupation stopped construction for two months. In August a judicial decision by the Ministry of Public and Federal
Complaints stopped construction yet again.The decision was quickly overturned and work resumed. However in
September, a coalition of fishermen and regional indigenous activists began a new occupation that lasted a month.
That occupation marked the fourth work stoppage. Finally in November after a breakdown of negotiations between
workers and the private consortium responsible for the project, three days of riots left machinery and outbuildings
charred. Subsequently work on Belo Monte was suspended after management claimed a complete lack of security.
Belo Monte is one of more than 60 hydroelectric projects the Brazilian government has planned for the Amazon
region. The country’s growing economy, and particularly its industrial sector, is in desperate need of cheap energy.
Belo Monte is considered an integral part of the federal government’s ambitious development strategy, the Growth
Acceleration Program (PAC). PAC has already spent $2 billion on Belo Monte, not even 20% of the hydroelectric
project’s total budget. According to Brazil’s National Development Bank, the Belo Monte project represents the
largest single investment in Brazil’s history.
While in recent decades millions of Brazilians have been lifted out of poverty by the country’s growing economy, it is
also true that there has been a parallel surge in economic inequality. Unfortunately the growth that has sustained
Brazil’s rise in the international community has often been at the expense of both the country’s most marginalized
populations and its incredible natural heritage. Perhaps there is no better an example of this than the current
situation in the Amazon. While the region is an important part of PAC, it remains one of the most impoverished parts
of the country. The Amazon’s indigenous communities represent some of the oldest living cultural traditions on the
planet. However their interconnected relationship with the region’s river system leaves them extremely vulnerable in
the face of the planned hydro projects. It is estimated that more than 50,000 people will be displaced as a result of
the Belo Monte project alone. Indigenous leaders worry this displacement may cause the death their language,
traditions, and ultimately, their culture.