Energia limpa e limpeza étnica

As condições discursivas, jurídicas e políticas do ecocídio de Belo Monte

Idelber Avelar and Moysés Pinto Neto

Abstract

This article analyzes the discursive, juridical, and political conditions of the environmental catastrophe of Belo Monte, a hydroelectric dam on the Xingu River with serious ecocidal consequences for the Amazon. The article traces the history of the project since its conception by the military dictatorship in 1975 through its several defeats at the hands of mobilized indigenous and riverbank Xingu populations in the 1980s and 1990s to its contested construction by the Lula and Rousseff administrations between 2005 and 2016. The Belo Monte dam was unique in that it was carried out by the very political party that had been the local populations’ most steadfast ally in defeating the project on previous attempts at executing it. Belo Monte was also intensely judicialized, with the Executive managing to delay decisions on the merit with repeated injunctions, while they turned the dam into an irreversible fact. The article analyzes that juridical singularity in the light of what later became known about Belo Monte as the epitome of how electoral campaigns have been financed in Brazil. The article also reconstructs arguments by indigenous leaders, biologists, anthropologists, energy specialists, law scholars, and local riverbank dwellers who correctly predicted the consequences of Belo Monte: the drying up of one hundred kilometers of the Xingu River (known as “Volta Grande”), extinctions of species, massive mortality of fish (crushed by turbines or starved to death), the impoverishment of indigenous and riverbank populations now packed in the outskirts of Altamira, and a host of other environmental, criminological, and medical effects. The title alludes to the role played by the rhetoric of “clean energy” [energia limpa] that has accompanied the hydroelectric dam business in Brazil, suggesting that in the case of Belo Monte another kind of “cleanliness” was at stake altogether, i.e. ethnic cleansing.

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Resumo

Abstract

This article analyzes the discursive, juridical, and political conditions of the environmental catastrophe of Belo Monte, a hydroelectric dam on the Xingu River with serious ecocidal consequences for the Amazon. The article traces the history of the project since its conception by the military dictatorship in 1975 through its several defeats at the hands of mobilized indigenous and riverbank Xingu populations in the 1980s and 1990s to its contested construction by the Lula and Rousseff administrations between 2005 and 2016. The Belo Monte dam was unique in that it was carried out by the very political party that had been the local populations’ most steadfast ally in defeating the project on previous attempts at executing it. Belo Monte was also intensely judicialized, with the Executive managing to delay decisions on the merit with repeated injunctions, while they turned the dam into an irreversible fact. The article analyzes that juridical singularity in the light of what later became known about Belo Monte as the epitome of how electoral campaigns have been financed in Brazil. The article also reconstructs arguments by indigenous leaders, biologists, anthropologists, energy specialists, law scholars, and local riverbank dwellers who correctly predicted the consequences of Belo Monte: the drying up of one hundred kilometers of the Xingu River (known as “Volta Grande”), extinctions of species, massive mortality of fish (crushed by turbines or starved to death), the impoverishment of indigenous and riverbank populations now packed in the outskirts of Altamira, and a host of other environmental, criminological, and medical effects. The title alludes to the role played by the rhetoric of “clean energy” [energia limpa] that has accompanied the hydroelectric dam business in Brazil, suggesting that in the case of Belo Monte another kind of “cleanliness” was at stake altogether, i.e. ethnic cleansing.

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