'Avatar' director lauds ruling on Brazilian dam

BRASILIA, 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 from Brazil's attorney general that there are not sufficient environmental protections in place at the site.

The decision can be appealed by the administration of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who strongly supports construction of the Belo Monte dam, arguing it will help Brazil meet its ever-growing energy needs.
"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.

The director of the mega-hit movies "Avatar" and "Titanic" spent the previous two days 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 traveled by days on rivers for a meeting about the dam.

He said there was cheering on the streets of Altamira outside his hotel when the decision was announced Wednesday.
"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 effected by this dam."

Cameron is accompanied in Brazil by environmental groups like Amazon Watch, a San Francisco-based group that works to protect the rainforest and the indigenous people living there.

He called the fight against the project a "real-life Avatar" battle being played out in the Amazon.
"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 and is needed to meet current and future energy needs. It says that even if private partners can't be found, Brazil has enough money to build the dam itself.
Environmentalists and indigenous groups are sharply opposed. They say it will 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, not benefit the average person.

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 his blockbuster movie "Avatar."

He said he sent a letter to Silva requesting a meeting and urging him to stop the dam. He has not received a reply from the president, who is currently visiting the U.S.
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 was 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.
Associated Press Writer Alan Clendenning in Sao Paulo contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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