Environmentalists aided by "Avatar" director James Cameron celebrated a big win Thursday after a judge suspended bidding on construction of Belo Monte dam, and operation of an Amazon dam that would be the planet's third-largest. The ruling also resulted in the suspension of the hydroelectric project's environmental license. The administration of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is vowing to appeal, however.
Brazil has a fragile energy grid that was hit last year by a blackout that darkened much of the nation. Belo Monte would supply 6 percent of the country's electricity needs by 2014, the same year Brazil will host soccer's World Cup and just two years before Rio holds the 2016 Olympics.
Environmental groups and Amazon Indians "are incredibly energized by the judge's decision and have renewed hope, although no one is naive," said Atossa Soltani, executive director of Amazon Watch. "Everyone recognizes that in Brazil a decision like this could be overturned quickly, and that we haven't won the battle yet."
Environemntalists disagree that the construction of the 11,000-megawatt dam is inevitable, saying Cameron's involvement could create pressure on the (Silva) administration and on the Brazilian public, and hopefully will encourage the Brazilian public to take a stand.
Without mentioning Cameron by name, Silva said people from developed nations should not lecture Brazil on the environment because those countries mowed down their own forests long ago. "We don't need those who already destroyed (what they had) to come here and tell us what to do," he said.
"It's a small victory for us, but I don't expect the battle is over," Cameron told The Associated Press. The director of "Avatar" and "Titanic" spent two days this week visiting Indian villages near the proposed dam site on the Xingu River, which feeds the Amazon, and talking with about 50 leaders of various groups. Along with actress Sigourney Weaver, Cameron also joined a protest in the capital of Brasilia, calling the fight against the project a "real-life Avatar" battle.
"Avatar" depicts the fictitious Na'vi race fighting to protect its homeland, the forest-covered moon Pandora, from plans to extract its resources. The movie has struck a chord with environmentalists from China, where millions have been displaced by major infrastructure projects, to Bolivia, where President Evo Morales praised its message of saving nature from exploitation.
Environmentalists and indigenous groups say Belo Monte would devastate wildlife and the livelihoods of 40,000 people who live in the area to be flooded. They also argue that the energy generated by the dam will largely go to big mining operations, instead of benefiting most Brazilians.