Indians from 14 different tribes live nearby. While the government says only 19,000 people will be affected, a review published last year by specialists in their respective fields said it could be as many as 40,000.
“We don’t accept the Belo Monte dam, because we understand that it is only going to bring destruction to our region,” indigenous leaders wrote in an open letter. “The way the white man is going, everything is going to be destroyed very quickly.”
Damage to the environment is also a major issue. The Xingu river basin has about four times as many species of fish as the whole of Europe, but the work will kill millions of animals and threaten extinction for some species, said Hermes Medeiros, a local ecologist on the review board.
Deforestation is also a concern, and the dam will release large quantities of methane gas, which is more harmful than carbon dioxide, the review said. Some opponents also claim that the dam does not make economic sense, given that its generating capacity will be cut by two-thirds during the dry season.
Even Hollywood has gotten involved. Avatar director James Cameron met Indians at the site in March and asked President Lula to consider shelving the plan. Cameron’s involvement provoked shouts of American imperialism and awakened age old fears inside Brazil that outsiders want to seize control of the Amazon.