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Brazil stirs up furor over giant dam, Rio de Janeiro slum

Nov. 10, 2011 at 4:45 PM   |   Comments

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RIO DE JANEIRO, Nov. 10 (UPI) -- Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is stirring up more political trouble over violent police action to push through a face-lift in the run-up to the 2014 FIFA World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics and over a giant dam project that defies a growing body of critics.

Rousseff wants Rio de Janeiro cleansed of slums before the two sporting events. And she wants the $11 billion Belo Monte dam complex in the Amazon to go ahead despite bitter opposition as part of her plan to fire up industrial growth and urbanization.

Both undertakings pose risks for the president in curious different ways. The latest crackdown on Rio's favelas won popular approval, despite its likely human costs, but made Rousseff new enemies in Brazil's powerful organized crime communities.

In the meantime, a court ruling won for the government much needed green light for the dam complex in the western Para state to go ahead but also bought her new opponents, who want to fight on.

Rousseff has already seen her plans for political consolidation derailed by six ministerial resignations over corruption scandals fanned by the populist and opposition media.

The super dam court ruling in the government's favor this week wasn't unexpected but it escalated the opposition campaign over the hydroelectric complex in the heart of the Amazon. The hugely unpopular project has involved long-running political quarrels, environmental protests and international interventions over the likely displacement of 16,000 indigenous inhabitants.

Rousseff says the dam complex is needed for the 11,000 megawatts of electricity -- more than 10 percent of Brazil's installed capacity -- that it will produce when completed. Opponents, who include local officials, want more consultation with the indigenous communities facing eviction.

An international campaign led by celebrities and popular figures, including "Avatar" movie director James Cameron, staged a peaceful protest by 400 campaigners at the site. More protests are planned.

In Rio, the campaign to stamp out heavily congested favelas drew little international attention but pitted the government against deadly gangs whose livelihoods depend on a contraband trade in narcotics, prostitution and weapons worth tens of millions of dollars.

In the Rocinha slum alone, targeted by police this week, more than 150,000 inhabitants face displacement. The favelas and its underground regime of organized crime have defied government efforts over 30 years to bring them into line.

Despite police reports of two key arrests, the operation failed to budge the criminal overlords. The slum's kingpin gang leader Nem gave a party to signal farewell as the police operation began, only to fall sick on a cocktail of alcohol and Ecstasy.

Unbelievably, media reports said, Nem got treated at a clinic after the bash but wasn't arrested.

The police operation continues and is set to pose another headache for Rousseff as its outcome is far from certain. Rocinha is one of about 1,000 slums yet to be cleared before the two sport events.

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