'Avatar' director lauds ruling on Brazilian dam
James Cameron and Sigourney Weaver march during a protest against a proposed dam in the Amazon in Brasilia, Monday, April 12, 2010. (AP / Eraldo Peres)
Published Thursday, April 15, 2010 8:39PM EDT
SAO PAULO, Brazil - Director James Cameron is applauding a Brazilian judge's decision to temporarily halt bidding on a huge hydroelectric dam, yet he warns the fight is not over in what he calls a "real-life Avatar" battle in the Amazon.
A federal judge in Para state on Wednesday delayed the April 20 auction for construction of what would be the world's third-largest hydroelectric project.
He said more time was needed to examine claims that Amazon Indians living near the site weren't consulted about the project and that insufficient environmental protection measures were put in place.
"It's a small victory for us, but I don't expect the battle is over," Cameron told The Associated Press by telephone from the small Amazon city of Altamira, where he was lending support to project opponents.
Government lawyers were analyzing the decision Thursday and will appeal it soon, said a spokeswoman for Brazil's solicitor general's office. She spoke on condition of anonymity due to department policy.
President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva strongly supports construction of the Belo Monte dam, arguing it will help Brazil meet its ever-growing energy needs. Silva on Wednesday also criticized international pressure to stop the dam project.
"No one worries more about taking care of the Amazon and our Indians than we do," Silva said Wednesday in a speech in Sao Paulo.
Silva also said, without mentioning Cameron by name, that people from developed nations should not lecture Brazil on the environment because those countries spent centuries destroying their own forests.
"We don't need those who already destroyed (what they had) to come here and tell us what to do," he said.
The director of the hit movies "Avatar" and "Titanic" spent two days this week visiting Indian villages near the proposed site of the dam on the Xingu River, which feeds the Amazon River. He said he talked with about 50 leaders of various Indian groups, some of whom travelled for days on rivers for a meeting about the dam.
After the judge issued his decision, there were cheers on the streets of Altamira outside his hotel, Cameron said.
"The people of the town and the area are opposed to the dam. There will be few local benefits of this dam," he said. "It's personal now, because I know these people who will be affected by this dam."
Cameron was accompanied in Brazil by activists from environmental groups like Amazon Watch, a San Francisco-based group that works to protect the rain forest and the indigenous people living there.
He called the fight against the project a "real-life Avatar" battle.
"Avatar" depicts a 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 worldwide, from China, where millions have been displaced by major infrastructure projects, to Bolivia, where President Evo Morales praised the film for sending the message of saving the environment from exploitation.
The $11 billion Belo Monte hydroelectric dam was cleared for construction Feb. 1 by Brazil's Environment Ministry and bidding was set for next week.
The government argues the dam will provide clean energy for current and future needs. It asks consortiums to bid for the right to build the dam and sell electricity to Brazil.
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 in the Amazon that export products abroad, instead of benefiting most Brazilians.
Cameron attended an environmental summit in the Amazon last month with former U.S. Vice-President Al Gore. He returned this week to Sao Paulo to promote the DVD version of "Avatar."
He said he sent a letter to Silva requesting a meeting and urging him to stop the dam, but has not received a reply.
Cameron said he rejects the argument made by some backers of the project that the 40,000 people expected to be displaced by the dam is nothing compared to the millions displaced by similar projects in China.
"We expect a little bit more from Brazil, it being a democracy," Cameron said.