Andrew Johnson

Photographer + Photojournalist
Belo Sun
Location: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Nationality: Canadian
Biography: Andrew (b. 1987) is an award-winning visual journalist and storyteller based between his native Canada and adopted Brazil. His longterm work is focused on socio-environmental narratives related to the working class struggle against systemic... MORE
Public Story
Belo Sun
Copyright Andrew Johnson 2022
Updated Jan 2022
Location Altamira, Pará
Topics Capitalism, Climate Change, Community, Conservation, Documentary, Environment, Essays, Ethnic minorities, Human Rights, International Stories, Journalism, Latin America, Photography, Photojournalism, Water
The once-mighty Xingu river is dying. The lifeblood of one of Earth’s greatest rivers is being choked by one of the biggest manmade constructions on the planet, the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam. The location on the Great Bend of the Xingu River happens to be one of the most biodiverse and fragile ecosystems in one of the world’s most precious biomes. It’s also mineral rich. Now under intense pressure from a Canadian mining firm that wants to install the country's largest ever open-pit gold mine on the banks of the Xingu, the survival of the river, the forest and its people is at stake.
The mighty Xingu River is dying. One of the main arteries of the lower Amazon is being choked by the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam, the fourth-largest in the world. Its location, on the Great Bend of the Xingu, happens to be a biodiversity hotspot in one of the most fragile and important ecosystems on the planet. It’s also mineral rich.

The Canadian mining company Belo Sun wants to build Brazil’s largest open-pit gold mine in the middle of the Great Bend. They plan to use deadly cyanide in the process of recovering the gold and the same design of tailings dam as the ones that burst in Minas Gerais state burying entire communities and hundreds of people, some of them still missing. If this were to happen to the Xingu it would almost certainly be the death of the river, its unique ecosystem and its traditional and Indigenous communities home to thousands of families.
The proposed site of the mine itself sits on top of the most important community in the Great Bend, the Vila da Ressaca. For years, Belo Sun has taken advantage of the pro-mining sentiment of corrupt local governments, self-serving officials as well as the isolation of remote communities long abandoned by the authorities and weakened since Belo Monte. Hampered by numerous legal challenges and media coverage, the Covid-19 pandemic has been the ideal smokescreen for further attempts to push the project forward. Illegal gold miners, loggers and land grabbers have moved in, encouraged by the weakening of oversight that came with the rightwing government of Jair Bolsonaro who has declared open season for the exploitation of the Amazon and named Belo Sun's project one of "national security".

“They want to take in a few years everything that has sustained us for decades,” says Idglan Pereira Sousa, 34, a lifelong resident of Vila da Ressaca, “we don’t have this capitalist mentality, ‘today I want ten thousand, tomorrow twenty, the next day thirty’ and we’re never satisfied. This here is ancient, it could last for generations.”

Under intense pressure from outsiders who see the land, forests and rivers as a commodity, the communities that protect and depend on them continue to resist, but for how long?

Also by Andrew Johnson —


Nós por Nós

Andrew Johnson / Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

We Were Always Here

Andrew Johnson / Manaus, Brazil

The Colony

Andrew Johnson / Rio de Janeiro

Beautiful and Broken

Andrew Johnson / Rio de Janeiro


Andrew Johnson
Join us
For more access