On 2 May, around 200 indigenous people affected by the construction of hydroelectric dams in the Brazilian Amazon, occupied the main construction sites of the Belo Monte dam complex on the Xingu river in the state of Pará. Although riot police were waiting for the protestors when they arrived at the construction site, Indians from different groups succeeded in gaining access to the site. They are demanding the suspension of the construction work until the Brazilian government adopts effective legislation on prior consultations with native peoples regarding projects that affect their lands and livelihoods in accordance with ILO Convention 169 (to which Brazil is signatory) and Article 231 of the Brazilian Constitution.
Apart from indigenous protestors from the Xingu River (the Juruna, Kayapó, Xipaya, Kuruaya, Asurini, Parakanã and Arara tribes), a large tribe from the neighbouring Tapajós river basin, the Munduruku warriors, were also present. In addition, fishermen and local river-based communities from the Xingu region, who are also strongly affected by the construction of the Belo Monte dam, joined the protest to show their support.
Photo by Leticia Leite (ISA)
“Our forest and our river are one of the last natural heritages of Brazil. It’s sad to think of what’s happening. And why are there so many dams planned on only one river?” asked Saw Exebu, spokesperson for the Munduruku. “We don’t want this to happen on our lands. We don’t want dams built in our home, the Tapajós.”
According to a press release by Amazon Watch, approximately 6,000 workers at one of the main Belo Monte construction sites, Pimental, have been forced to stop operations as a result of the protest.
However, on 3 May, also World Press Freedom day, three journalists were banned from covering the occupation. Two of them were removed from the site by around 100 federal police, riot police and members of the National Force, and the third journalist was fined 1,000 reais (over £300). The three journalists – a Reuters photographer, Lunaé Parracho, CIMI journalist Ruy Sposati and Radio France Internationale (RFI) correspondent in Brazil, François Cardona – have been covering indigenous actions against the construction of large dams that affect their lands. An activist was also removed from the site.
“This decision [to ban non-indigenous people from Belo Monte dam site] is absolutely nonsensical; it is technically inconsistent,” argues Sérgio Martins, lawyer for the Society of Human Rights in Pará State (SDDH). Martins believes the decision was a political move. “In fact, this action is dated 2011. It was an injunction by the State Justice to stop people occupying the area, which has never expired. Now, over a year and a half later, it has been transformed into an injunction to permit force to be used to regain possession of the land. It seeks to disrupt all the support and solidarity from non-indigenous people and to eliminate all journalistic coverage on the ground. It was a strictly political decision, from a judicial point of view,” he concludes.
The SDDH will take action to demand access to the occupation site for the journalists.
In a new letter [in Portuguese] released on 4 May, the Indians occupying the site express great concern about the banning decision. They say that “the journalistic coverage is an enormous help to us in getting our voice heard in the world.”
In a separate statement, the warrior Valdenir Munduruku said, “Our protest is peaceful. We are just asking to be heard. Why do they not want the journalists here? If anything happens, the government must be held responsible.”
Image by Brasil de Fato
Occupations against the Belo Monte dam complex and mobilisations against other Amazonian dams have become increasingly commonplace. According to Amazon Watch, the construction on Belo Monte has been halted on at least seven occasions over the last year. This is thanks to the efforts of affected indigenous communities and fishermen, who have been calling attention to the failure of the Norte Energia dam-building consortium and government agencies to comply with the project’s mandated environmental and social conditions.
Very recently, the Munduruku indigenous people and other local communities have been mobilizing against the construction of a series of large dams on the neighbouring Tapajós river and its main tributaries, the Teles Pires, the Juruena and the Jamanxim. Federal Public Prosecutors, an independent branch of the judiciary, have prosecuted the government for failing to carry out prior consultations with the Kayabi, Apiaká and Munduruku indigenous peoples over the construction of the Teles Pires dam. The Munduruku were recently very angry when, they say, archaeologists, contracted by the government to carry out dam-related studies, removed funeral urns from the Sete Quedas rapids area. The site is considered sacred by the Kayabi, Apiaka and Munduruku people.
If you are interested to listen to more of the indigenous people’s voices on this case, please watch the feature documentary “Belo Monte Announcement of a War.”
Produced independently by Cinedelia during 3 expeditions at the Xingu River, Altamira, Brasília and São Paulo, the documentary was funded by the audience through crowdfund. It was released (complete) on the internet in June 2012 and you can watch it here: