Belo Monte construction halts after protestors torch buildings at three construction sites

Work on Brazil’s $13 billion Belo Monte mega-dam was stopped on Monday after protesters torched buildings at three dam construction sites over the weekend.

Saturday, “a group of 30 people set fire to prefab structures at the Pimental site. They went into the cafeteria, destroyed everything and robbed the till” before setting it ablaze, said Fernando Santana, spokesman for builders Consorcio Constructor Belo Monte (CCBM).

And late Sunday, groups of 20 people set structures ablaze at Canais and Diques, two other dam construction sites, said Santana.

“On Monday, as a precautionary security measure, all activities were suspended at the construction site,” said Santana, suggesting that “vandals” might be trying to derail salary renegotiation under way.

CCBM have proposed a seven percent wage increase to the workers in an area where the inflation rate is at 30 percent

Protesters have disrupteed construction of the dam several times already over the past few months including an occupation of the main construction site at Pimental  and in September a group of fishermen blockaded the Xingu River preventing a ferry from transporting machines and workers to a coffer dam being built for the Belo Monte Dam Complex. They then set up a protest camp on one of the main islands of the Xingu River near the construction site. 

Indigenous groups fear the dam across the Xingu River, a tributary of the Amazon, will harm their way of life. Environmentalists have warned of deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions and irreparable damage to the ecosystem.

The dam is expected to flood some 500 square kilometers (200 square miles) along the Xingu and displace 16,000 people, according to the government, although some NGOs put the number at 40,000 displaced.

The indigenous people want their lands demarcated and non-indigenous people removed from them, as well as a better healthcare system and access to drinking water.

Expected to produce 11,000 megawatts of electricity, the dam would be the third biggest in the world, after China’s Three Gorges facility and Brazil’s Itaipu Dam in the south.

It is one of several hydroelectric projects billed by Brazil as providing clean energy for a fast-growing economy.