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Awarding of Brazilian Dam Contract Prompts Warning of Bloodshed

Indigenous leader says men are preparing their bows and arrows to prevent construction of the Belo Monte dam

Tom Phillips in Rio de Janeiro

People from several tribes and social movements protest in front of the National Electric Energy Agency (ANEEL) in Brasilia. Brazil speedily awarded the tender for a controversial hydro-electric dam projected to be the world's third-largest, despite fierce opposition from environmentalists.… Read more » (AFP/Evaristo Sa)

Indigenous leaders in Brazil
are warning of imminent violence after a successful tender for the
rights to construct a giant hydro-electric plant in the Brazilian
Amazon which opponents claim will wreak havoc on the rainforest and its inhabitants.

tender for the Belo Monte dam, on the Xingu river in the state of Pará,
was won by a consortium of Brazilian companies on Tuesday, taking the
government one step closer towards the construction of the £7bn dam,
which would reputedly be the third biggest of its kind, with the
capacity to produce some 11,000MW of power.

One Brazilian
minister told reporters that the president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva,
was pleased with the result. But environmentalists, indigenous leaders
and their supporters, including Avatar's director, James Cameron, who has made two recent visits to the region, have vowed to fight to prevent construction.

Kayapó leader Raoni Metuktire, who gained international exposure in the
1980s and 1990s touring the world with Sting, said indigenous men from
the Xingu were preparing their bows and arrows in order to fight off
the dam.

"I think that today the war is about to start once more
and the Indians will be forced to kill the white men again so they
leave our lands alone," he said. "I think the white man wants too much,
our water, our land. There will be a war so the white man cannot
interfere in our lands again."

Luis Xipaya, another of the
region's indigenous leaders, told Reuters: "There will be bloodshed and
the government will be responsible for that."

Plans to build a
towering hydro-electric dam on the Xingu were conceived in the 1970s
but have repeatedly stalled, partly as a result of international
pressure. However, renewed attempts to push ahead with the dam, part of
a massive government drive to boost economic growth, have revived fears
for thousands of indigenous people who live in the region.

"I do
not accept the Belo Monte dam," said the indigenous leader Mokuka
Kayapó, who claimed the indigenous way of life would be destroyed. "The
forest is our butcher. The river, with its fish, is our market. This is
how we survive."


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Many residents of Altamira, a sleepy Amazonian
city on the banks of the Xingu near the site of the planned dam, also
fear social chaos with the influx of thousands of impoverished workers.

Melo, a local human rights activist from the Xingu Para Sempre
movement, described the dam as a human rights violation. "We will all
be affected by over 100,000 people who will arrive in the region as a
result of Belo Monte. There will be violence, a lack of food, of
sewage, of health services," she warned.

Local newspapers report
that immigrants have already started arriving in the region from as far
away as Rio de Janeiro and Brazil's deep south in search of business
opportunities and work.

Not all Brazilians oppose the dam. Many
argue that Belo Monte will create jobs as well as electricity, while
one major newspaper suggested that the plant would help attract foreign
tourists to the region.

"I'm in favour of it and if the
government does what it promises, giving us new homes, people will have
more opportunities. It will be good for us because the city will
develop more," Claudionor Alves de Oliveira, an Altamira carpenter,
told the G1 news site.

On Tuesday activists from Greenpeace
dumped several tonnes of manure outside the National Electric Energy
Agency in Brasilia, where the bidding took place.

Sheila Juruna,
an indigenous activist leading the anti-Belo Monte campaign, contrasted
Brazil's attempts to restore order in Haiti, through its UN
stabilisation force, with its treatment of the country's indigenous
peoples. "Our government is helping other countries where disasters are
happening. But here in Brazil they are destroying us," she said.

Speaking in Brazil last week, James Cameron called the dam an ecological disaster and said there were alternatives.

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