Cross Posted from Amazon Watch:
Altamira, Brazil – Some 200 indigenous people affected by the construction of large hydroelectric dams in the Amazon launched an occupation today on one of the main construction sites of the Belo Monte dam complex on the Xingu River in the Brazilian Amazon. The group demands that the Brazilian government adopt effective legislation on prior consultations with indigenous peoples regarding projects that affect their lands and livelihoods. As this has not happened, they are demanding the immediate suspension of construction, technical studies and police operations related to dams along the Xingu, Tapajos and Teles Pires rivers. Shock troops of the military police were awaiting indigenous protestors when they arrived at the Belo Monte dam site, but they were unable to impede the occupation.
The indigenous protestors include members of the Juruna, Kayapó, Xipaya, Kuruaya, Asurini, Parakanã, Arara tribes from the Xingu River, as well as warriors of the Munduruku, a large tribe from the neighboring Tapajós river basin. The indigenous peoples are joined by fishermen and local riverine communities from the Xingu region. Initial reports indicate that approximately 6,000 workers at one of the main Belo Monte construction sites, Pimental, have ceased operations as a result of the protest. The occupation, according to the indigenous communities, will continue indefinitely or until the federal government meets their demands.
Indigenous peoples of the Xingu and Tapajós released this statement [English translation]:
We are the people who live in the rivers where you want to build dams. We
are the Munduruku, Juruna, Kayapo, Xipaya, Kuruaya, Asurini, Parakanã, Arara,
fishermen and peoples who live in riverine communities. We are Amazonian
peoples and we want the forest to stand. We are Brazilians. The river and the
forest are our supermarket. Our ancestors are older than Jesus Christ.
You are pointing guns at our heads. You raid our territories with war trucks
and soldiers. You have made the fish disappear and you are robbing the
bones of our ancestors who are buried on our lands.
You do this because you are afraid to listen to us. You are afraid to hear that
we don’t want dams on our rivers, and afraid to understand why we don’t
You invent stories that we are violent and that we want war. Who are the
ones killing our relatives? How many white people have died in comparison to
how many Indigenous people have died? You are the ones killing us, quickly
or slowly. We’re dying and with each dam that is built, more of us will die.
When we try to talk with you, you bring tanks, helicopters, soldiers,
machineguns and stun weapons.
What we want is simple: You need to uphold the law and promote enacting
legislation on free, prior and informed consent for indigenous peoples. Until
that happens you need to stop all construction, studies, and police operations
in the Xingu, Tapajos and Teles Pires rivers. And then you need to consult us.
We want dialogue, but you are not letting us speak. This is why we are
occupying your dam-building site. You need to stop everything and simply
listen to us.
Occupations against the Belo Monte dam complex and mobilizations against other Amazonian dams have become increasingly commonplace. Construction on Belo Monte has been halted on at least seven occasions over the last year due to the efforts of affected indigenous communities and fishermen to call attention to the failures of the Norte Energia dam building consortium and government agencies to comply with the project’s mandated environmental and social conditions. On March 21st, approximately 100 indigenous peoples, riverbank dwellers (ribeirinhos) and small farmers expelled dam workers and occupied the Pimental site, maintained by the Belo Monte Construction Consortium (CCBM). Additionally, recent strikes and protests by dam workers have created additional unrest at CCBM construction sites.
The Munduruku indigenous people and other local communities have mobilized against a cascade of over a dozen large dams slated for construction on the neighboring Tapajós river and its major tributaries, the Teles Pires, Juruena and Jamanxim. One of the first major dams under construction, UHE Teles Pires, has been the subject of lawsuits by Federal Public Prosecutors for lack of prior consultations with the Kayabi, Apiaká and Munduruku indigenous peoples. In recent weeks, the removal of funeral urns of the Munduruku people by dam contractors at the Sete Quedas rapids, considered a sacred site for indigenous tribes, provoked outrage.
Last March President Dilma Rousseff signed Decree no. 7957/2013 allowing the use of the National Guard and other armed forces to ensure that dam construction at places like Belo Monte and technical studies for planned Amazonian dams are not interrupted by indigenous protestors. In April, upon a request of the Ministry of Mines and Energy, approximately 250 federal and military police troops were dispatched to the Tapajós region to ensure continuation of technical studies for the first two large dams scheduled for construction, São Luiz do Tapajós and Jatobá. The military operation came in response to protests from the Munduruku people, whose traditional lands would be directly affected by the two large dams and who have suffered from a history of military operations on their lands.
“Today’s protest demonstrates the relentless resistance of a growing group of united peoples against Belo Monte, Tapajós and other destructive dams throughout the Amazon,” said Leila Salazar-Lopez, Amazon Watch Program Director. “These are the final moments to change course as construction closes in on the Xingu and other lifeline rivers of the Amazon.”