This defender of the indigenous of the Xingu savages the PT for their “treachery”.
Austrian-born Erwin Kräutler (pictured) has been bishop of Xingu since 1980 and a firm defender of indigenous rights. In this long interview he recounts a chapter of the history of the Brazilian Amazon, including the inauguration of the Transamazonian highway with the ‘pau do Presidente’ and his relations with the Kayapó indians (including how they changed when he learned their language). He is bitter about what he calls the “treachery” of the PT (Workers’ Party) over big dams, exemplified by Belo Monte. Bishop Kräutler gives a fascinating account of meetings with Lula in which the President, he says, promised to review the programme of large hydro-electric dams planned for the region, a promise he went back on. He also recalls his friend, the murdered nun, Dorothy Stang, whom he had welcomed to his diocese.
Here is Bishop Kräutler’s description of President Lula’s meeting with a delegation from the Xingu on 22 July 2009 that had come to Brasilia to raise objections to the Belo Monte dam:
“It was very interesting. We took two Indians, two river-bank settlers, Antonia Melo (one of the main leaders from the Xingu), two Prosecutors of the Republic and Professor Célio Bermann (from the Institute of Electrical Technology and Energy at USP). But Gilberto Carvalho [then chief of staff to President Lula, now minister at the General Secretariat of the Presidency of the Republic in Dilma’s government] wanted me to be the only speaker, in the name of the group. On the other side was the government’s energy team, all the top people… So there we were , unimportant, wretched, feeling like fish out of water, and opposite the people who gave the orders and still give the orders… But we were sure of our demands. And when Lula arrived, he sat beside me. I said, ‘President, you will have to listen to these people. These people have come a long way, they want to speak to you. You can’t just take two to represent the others, or you can’t imagine how frustrated they’ll be!’ So Lula said, ‘Leave it to me! We’ll manage!’ And he did let everyone speak.
“The people spoke about their distress, about how they couldn’t leave their land. Then the Prosecutors talked about the aspects of the Belo Monte project that were unconstitutional, how the Indians hadn’t had a hearing. Célio Bermann then presented the technical and financial case for the project’s unviability. I could see that Lula was shocked. He looked at his team and said, ‘You’ll have to give the professor a reply right away.’ But that reply has still not come to this day.
“It was theatre, a political game. Afterwards Lula took me by the arm and said: ‘Dom Erwin, we’re not going to force this project down anyone’s throat. Count on me. The dialogue must continue. Secondly, Brazil has a huge debt to the people affected by dams, and that debt has not been paid to this day. There are lots of people wandering around who’ve not been compensated, and their lives are practically on hold. Thirdly, we’re not going to repeat Balbina [an earlier dam in the Amazon, which caused a lot of environmental damage]. Balbina is a monument to madness. Fourthly, the project will only go ahead if it benefits everyone.’
“Those were his very words, sitting beside me, holding my arm. I thought: Surely the President wouldn’t say that if it wasn’t true. But women are more sensitive, more intuitive. Antonia Melo wouldn’t even let them take her photograph. Everyone else had their photo taken with Lula. I thought it was very strange, but she felt, even then, that it was just a show. Funny, for things like that women have an intuition that men don’t have. I thought: ‘No, Lula wouldn’t lie to my face.’ And holding my arm – ‘Dom Erwiiiin…’
“I won’t say I was relieved after the meeting, but hopeful, because at the end he said, ‘The dialogue will go on. We’ll meet again.’ But then suddenly I realised there hadn’t been any dialogue at all. He talked, but he didn’t ask us what our ideas were, he didn’t ask us what we thought, or how we thought some of the problems could be solved.”
The interview (in Portuguese) can be accessed here.