Sue Branford in Brazil. Post 3. Jacareacanga, Pará, September 8 2013.
Sue Branford, now accompanied by LAB colleague Nayana Fernandez, arrived on 5 September in the town of Santarém, at the confluence of the Tapajós and Amazon rivers. They will be spending the next four weeks looking at the impact on local communities of the big development projects being unrolled in the region.
As so often happens on an Amazon trip, the first days are spent travelling. This time it was on buses – ten hours from Santarém to Itaituba, and then another eight hours to Jacareacanga, a village famous in Brazilian history for being the place from which an attempt to overthrow President Juscelino Kubitschek was launched in 1956.
The journey was uneventful except for a remarkable exchange I had with Rodrigo de Filippo, the coordinator of environmental studies of hydropower projects at Concremat, a large engineering company. Concremat is responsible for the biological section of the environmental impact study that is being carried out to assess the viability of two of the hydroelectric power stations planned for the Tapajós river. These studies are required by law before the go-ahead can be given for construction of the dams.
The law also requires the government to carry out a public consultation, but because it is not doing this simultaneously, most of the 8,000 Munduruku Indians living in the region are calling for a halt to the biological studies. In June they even went as far as taking hostage three scientists and parading them, their hands bound, in the central square of Jacareacanga. The authorities reacted quickly, promising to carry out the public consultation.
But the government hasn’t kept its side of the deal. The consultations with the local communities are not happening and the government recently sent the scientists – known collectively as the biólogos, even though they are not all biologists – back into the area, protected by a military escort provided by the National Force. The Indians are angry, but, intimidated by the machine guns carried by the soldiers, have so far taken no further action.
Imagine our surprise when we got off the bus for a lunch break at a café along the Transamazonica highway, halfway between Itaituba and Jacareacanga, and saw a group of biólogos surrounded by a military escort sitting at a table. As a journalist, I wanted to find out what it was like to work in such conditions. I walked over to them and politely introduced myself.
Immediately, a man leapt up from a neighbouring table, identified himself as Rodrigo de Filippo, the scientific coordinator at Concremat, and angrily told me to stop talking to the biólogos, who, he said, were strictly forbidden to speak to the press. So I asked, again politely, if I could speak to him instead.
Shouting so loudly that everyone in the restaurant looked at him in astonishment, he said: ‘Muito menos a mim!’ (And certainly not to me!) He went on shouting angrily: ‘You press are all discredited. None of you are worthy of any trust. Look at trouble you’re causing.’ I reacted in astonishment: ‘Why do you to talk to me, a foreign journalist, in this way?’ I asked him. ‘You’ve never met me before! You don’t know anything about me!’ By now, the National Force soldiers had sprung to attention. We exchanged a few more words in similar fashion, with the biólogos looking more and more embarrassed. I then walked back to the table where I was eating, still reeling from the aggressive way in which he had addressed me.
A trivial incident in itself, but it raises a serious concern. If Rodrigo de Filippo can treat a foreign journalist with such anger in a public place, how does he behave towards isolated indigenous families?