Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Native peoples in Brazil fight for their rights & the environment

It’s a peculiar political phenomenon that expropriation of native peoples is spoken of in the past tense when neoliberal land grabs are as rapacious & brutal as they were 600 years ago. This is not just a struggle for indigenous land rights; this is an environmental struggle involving the fate of life on this planet & native peoples are in the vanguard of that movement.

These are Munduruku Indians from the Brazilian Amazon who in April demanded the government cease military operations against protestors opposed to new hydroelectric dams which would destroy forests, & cause environmental havoc, dispossess their lands & livelihoods & displace thousands of them with no place to go. Last November helicopters & soldiers armed with machine guns & assault rifles attacked a Munduruku village, teargassed men, women, children, & elders, wrestled them to the ground & made them lie on the ground, destroyed the village radio & phone service, confiscated  cameras, forbade people to speak to each other. There are also growing complaints of using native peoples as labor & sexual slaves at construction sites.

Community leaders gave the government an ultimatum: remove the troops from their land or face a declaration of war. A Brazilian court ruled for the Munduruku people, suspended military operations & mandated affected communities be consulted before the government proceeded. The Attorney General’s office announced it would appeal this ruling because land rights & the rule of law should never be allowed to stand in the way of the rapacious greed of Brazilian & transnational corporations. Over 34 new dams are slated for Brazil & greed will be damned if it allows native peoples to defy them. Although the government claims the dams are to supply Brazil's fast-growing demand for electricity, others say the objective of so many dams in the Amazon is to provide cheap subsidized energy to mining companies poised to mine native lands.

Yesterday, air force planes flew 144 Mundurukus to Brasilia for talks to end the latest occupation of the main Belo Monte construction site which brought work to a halt for a week. The parley with Brazil’s Secretary General of the Presidency is surely a maneuver on the part of the government to save the $13 billion Belo Monte project but if they think they can take these people for a ride & outsmart them, they better think again. When the Manduruku community issued an open letter calling for an end to the military occupation, they said, “We are not bandits. We feel betrayed, humiliated & disrespected by all this.” And the looks on their faces here in government chambers show they mean business!

Our fullest solidarity with their struggle since our own survival depends upon their victory.

(Photo by Beto Barata/Getty Images)

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