A judge on Friday overturned a decision that could have delayed construction of a huge Amazon dam opposed by environmentalists, Indians and the director of “Avatar.”
The judge in the capital of Brasilia reversed a decision to suspend contract bidding scheduled for next week and also overturned the suspension of the environmental license for the 11,000-megawatt Belo Monte dam, according to a statement from Brazil’s solicitor general.
Federal prosecutor Renato Brill de Goes, acting on behalf of dam opponents, said an appeal would be filed, but he did not say when. He also questioned why the dam was put back on track so quickly, just a day after the suspensions were appealed by Brazil’s government.
James Cameron, director of the blockbuster movie “Avatar,” asserted that government pressure played a role in the quick court reversal.
“When you have entrenched interests and billions of dollars, that’s a big steamroller,” Mr. Cameron said from Washington in a telephone interview after spending a week in Brazil protesting the dam and meeting with Indians who would be affected.
Brazil’s electricity regulator resumed plans to hold an auction on Tuesday to pick a consortium to build and operate the $11 billion dam and sell electricity to the nation, according to a statement from the agency, known as Aneel.
The original decision halting the dam from going forward came on Wednesday, when Mr. Cameron was visiting a small city near the dam site, accompanied by members of Amazon Watch, a San Francisco-based group that works to protect the rain forest and the indigenous people living there.
In a statement Friday, Amazon Watch said “the battle is not over.”
“We are committed to supporting Brazilian indigenous peoples who have vowed to fight to stop the Belo Monte dam,” the statement said. “This dam is one of the most destructive projects ever undertaken in the Amazon.”
Belo Monte would be the world’s third-largest hydroelectric energy producer, behind China’s Three Gorges dam and the Itaipu dam that straddles the border of Brazil and Paraguay.
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.
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has repeatedly insisted that the dam is essential, and says it will provide clean and renewable energy to feed increasing demand.
Latin America’s largest nation 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 de Janeiro holds the 2016 Olympics.
Mr. Silva also suggested foreigners should not tell Brazil what to do in the Amazon, but Mr. Cameron said the nation’s jungle is an international issue because the Brazilian Amazon is seen by many as the world’s biggest natural defense against global warming.
It acts as a “sink,” or absorber, of carbon dioxide while also serving as a contributor because about 75 percent of Brazil’s emissions come from rain-forest clearing, as vegetation burns and felled trees rot.
“The international community needs to engage on this issue because it affects all of us,” Mr. Cameron said. “I am sure (Silva) doesn’t like us poking around in his affairs, but this is an international issue.”
Actress Sigourney Weaver, who starred in “Avatar,” accompanied Mr. Cameron to the jungle city of Altamira and to Brasilia for a protest march.
Their visit was reminiscent of a 1989 trip by rock star Sting, who protested the same dam alongside Indians in an event that helped persuade international lenders not to finance it. Brazil was shuddering under a heavy foreign debt at the time.
But economically booming Brazil no longer needs money from abroad to build the dam.
Brazilian officials contest environmentalists’ estimates of the damage the dam would cause, saying it was approved after years of planning to protect wildlife and people living nearby.
The solicitor general’s office said in its statement that the dam’s construction will create 18,000 jobs in Para state, one of Brazil’s poorest regions.
Mr. Cameron said he believes his opposition to the dam will give opponents a boost because his presence focused media attention on the issue.
“The tug-of-war has become quite public in the media in Brazil and internationally, and that’s a gain because up until now the people affected by the dam haven’t had a voice.”
But the director said that if he ever returned to Brazil, it would be as a filmmaker and not as an environmental lobbyist.
“If Brazil will let me back in,” he added.
Two consortiums are expected to bid on the dam, and the state-owned Brazilian National Development Bank will finance up to 80 percent of the cost over a 30-year period.
One of the consortiums is Norte Energia and counts among its partners Construtora Queiroz Galvao SA, a large Brazilian construction company. The other, Belo Monte Energia, includes Brazil’s Vale SA, the world’s largest producer of iron ore.
To win, a consortium must offer the lowest price for producing electricty.
Keywords: Controversial Amazon dam,