ALTAMIRA, Brazil (AP) — Edizangela Alves Barros believed that being forced to relocate to make way for a mammoth dam in Brazil's Amazon would mean a brighter future for her family.
Instead, their newly built settlement has more expensive electricity bills and intermittent public lighting — a cruel irony for a community just 25 miles from the world's third-biggest hydroelectric dam.
"We left our wooden houses to live in concrete houses, but our economic situation got worse," Alves Barros, a mother of five, said in an interview.
She used to live by the Xingu River Today, it is the site of the Belo Monte Dam, a colossus built with enough concrete and steel to make 22 Eiffel Towers. Boats crossing the river beside it look like toys.
Belo Monte was meant to bolster Brazil's faltering electrical grid. And three weeks into full operation, the dam has been a boon — to people in cities more than 1,500 miles away.
There’s a different view in the region where the dam was built. The project displaced some 40,000 people, according to civil society estimates, and it has dried up stretches of the Xingu River. Critics also say that promises of jobs and economic development to accompany the dam were not met.
"There were a lot of promises — generate jobs, the region's economy was going to grow," said Sabrina Mesquita do Nascimento, a researcher with the Federal University of Pará’s Center for Advanced Amazonian Studies, who has spent years studying Belo Monte.
The promises either did not materialize or evaporated when construction ended, she said.
"It was an ephemeral relationship. All the damages fell to these people," do Nascimento said.
Sitting in the northern state of Pará, Belo Monte has the capacity to generate 11.2 gigawatts of power, less only than China's Three Gorges and Itaipú on Brazil's border with Paraguay. It required excavating a canal larger than the Panama Canal.
Entrepreneurs saw opportunity, and job-seekers flocked to Altamira seeking one of the 60,000 promised positions, which sent the city’s population surging.
Residents who fished and bathed in the Xingu saw their lives take a dramatic turn.
One was Jair Teixeira da Costa, a fisherman who lives in a small wooden house with a makeshift dock where he plays with his six dogs. Today, fish are scarce and he picks up odd jobs to make ends meet. That isn’t what he expected after hearing the plans outlined by the dam's builders for preserving local communities’ customs.
Federal prosecutors have carried out 27 investigations focused on Belo Monte. Among other things, they have accused companies and public agencies of not performing mandatory consultations with indigenous communities, and not fulfilling pledges to implement basic sewage for area residents.
In an email to The Associated Press, Norte Energía said local families eat more than three times the amount of fish suggested by the World Health Organization, and said that it had created a "cooperative" of fishermen to mitigate impacts on the river.
Norte Energía said it did not force indigenous communities to relocate.
"The construction company didn't work out, not at all. It was just promises," said da Costa, who is still waiting to get electricity in his home.