Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Continuing indigenous unrest over Belo Monte dam project

For the second time this month, over 200 indigenous protestors from several different tribes in the Brazilian Amazon disrupted the main construction site of the Belo Monte dam complex on the Xingu River near Altamira. Construction on Belo Monte has been halted several times by protests of indigenous communities, river dwellers, & fishermen demanding legislation protecting environmental & indigenous rights along with consultation with them on projects affecting their lands & livelihoods. Since the government & building consortium continue to flagrantly ignore them, they are demanding immediate suspension of construction, all technical studies, & police & military operations against them. Indigenous communities say the occupations will continue indefinitely or until the federal government meets their demands.

During previous protests at Belo Monte construction sites, dam workers were expelled & construction operations shut down; at one point over 6,000 dam workers were forced to halt work. Recent strikes & protests by dam workers have only added to the unrest. Other indigenous peoples & local communities have protested a cascade of large dams slated for construction on the nearby Tapajós River & its tributaries. One of the first dams under construction is the subject of litigation, once again for lack of consultation with the affected indigenous peoples. Recently there was outrage when funeral urns of the Munduruku people were removed by dam contractors at a site considered sacred by indigenous tribes.

To counter the protests, Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff dispatched federal & military troops to occupy & ensure that dam construction goes ahead & that operations are not interrupted at Belo Monte or at the Tapajós River project.

This letter from indigenous peoples of the Xingu & Tapajós regions explains in the clearest language what is at dispute for them:

“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 want them.

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, machine guns 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.”

(Photo by Lunae Parracho/Reuters)

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