The Xingu Alive Forever: When life is cheap

Dorothy Stang, murdered American nun
Dorothy Stang, murdered American nun
Seeing him waving the "V' for victory sign yesterday, and hearing him thank divine justice for his acquittal on appeal after initially being convicted and sentenced to 30 years, rancher Vitalmiro de Moura Bastos, or "Bida" reminded me of the killers of civil rights workers in the South who smirked when were absolved for their crimes. But, this is the Amazon, not the South, and it´s 2008. And, the murder Bida was absolved of was that of an American nun, Dorothy Stang, rather than a Black youth who dared to assert his rights.

Also yesterday, Dom Erwin Krautler, an Austrian native who is the Bishop of the Xingu told a Brazilian congressional committee: "I want my freedom to come and go as I please. I didn´t commit any crime, and I want my liberty back". Dom Erwin is among the 300 people in the eastern Amazon whose lives have been threatened for, as he puts it "raising my voice in defense of Indians, the environment, and powerful interests". He walks in the streets of Altamira, a city on the banks of the Xingu, accompanied by heavily armed Federal Police.

In less than two weeks from now, several thousand Indians, riverbank dwellers, and others whose ways-of-life would be threatened by the construction of the world´s third largest dam, Belo Monte, will hold a historical Encounter they are calling "The Xingu Alive Forever" in Altamira. Dom Erwin will give the opening address, and then indigenous shamans will bless the meeting and pray for its success. There will be electricity in the air.

Federal Attorney Felício Pontes told the congressional investigators that the murder of Sister Dorothy and the threatening of activists, including anti-dam activists is the "end of the line" of the government´s large-scale development projects planned for the region. Last week, Pontes and other federal attorneys convinced a judge that environmental studies for Belo Monte Dam were being carried out in an illegal manner, and the judge ordered them suspended. Pontes´ life has also been threatened.

Trees, rivers, or people - Life is cheap in the Brazilian Amazon. And the upcoming encounter Xingu Alive Forever will be about more than just dams.