Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Real-life Avatar - James Cameron speaks out against dam in Brazilian Amazon

A real-life Avatar conflict is playing out in the Brazilian Amazon as indigenous groups fight against the construction of a giant hydroelectric dam in the heart of the rainforest, the Oscar-winning director James Cameron has warned.

The planned Belo Monte dam, approved in February, has drawn fury from environmental and Indian groups who say it will destroy a vast area of rainforest and the way of life of dozens of indigenous communities.

As the Brazilian Government prepares to open the project to bids, the director of the sci-fi phenomenon has become an international champion of the campaign against it, and of the tribes which he says are ready to lay down their lives to protect their lands.

“I’m drawn into a situation where a real-life Avatar confrontation is in progress,” Mr Cameron said as he arrived in Brazil along with the film’s stars Sigourney Weaver and Joel David Moore. “What’s happening in Avatar is happening in Brazil and places like India and China, where traditional villages are displaced by big infrastructure projects,” he said, referring to the film’s depiction of a conflict on the fictional planet of Pandora between the Na’vi race and a human army bent on exploiting its minerals.

Mr Cameron attended protests in the capital, Brasilia, on Monday before travelling with the actors up the Xingu river, the Amazon tributary where the dam is planned, to visit indigenous communities.

He said Belo Monte was “going to be an ecological disaster” and insisted that “the knowledge of indigenous people, who learned how to live with nature” was one of Brazil’s greatest resources.

Mr Cameron is not the first celebrity to throw the international spotlight on to the project, originally planned 20 years ago but abandoned amid widespread criticism at home. That campaign was spearheaded internationally by the British rock star Sting, who returned to Brazil in November to urge the government to listen to tribal leaders.

The £11 billion dam would be the third largest in the world, with a generating capacity of 11 Gigawatts; a contribution the government says is vital to meeting rising energy needs. But critics note it will flood 500 square kilometres of rainforest and divert the river’s flow away from tens of thousands of indigenous people who depend on it for their survival. An estimated 20,000 people will be displaced.

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