“Once this was a quiet city—now it’s a mess.” These words were said over and over by the different people that I encountered on the streets of Altamira, an isolated city in the core of the Brazilian state of Para.

Since the Brazilian government started building the world’s third largest hydroelectric dam on the Xingu River, one of the Amazon’s major tributaries, the region and the city of Altamira have fallen into chaos. The arrival of thousands of migrants working at the Belo Monte Dam complex has added huge pressure to the region’s already weak infrastructures and social services. This process has given rise to a spike in criminality—such as widespread insecurity, increased drug use, growing cases of violence and prostitution.

The decision to construct dams has always presented governments with the dilemma of balancing economic development with the rights of local populations and environmental protection. Ultimately, development has trumped these other concerns. Once the Belo Monte project is completed, (at an estimated cost of $11 billion), the dam will have diverted 80% of the river’s flow, will flood an area of 668 square kilometers and will force the displacement of between 20,000-40,000 people.

My project takes into account the region where the Belo Monte complex is expanding and explores the contradictions incidental to the developments of large dams. This is part of a personal, ongoing investigation on the idea of progress in Brazil since 2010. I want to explore the social impacts that are a consequence of these massive construction processes.

—Tommaso Protti


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