Amazonian Indigenous Peoples Occupy Belo Monte Dam Site

Friday, June 22, 2012


Altamira, Brazil – Indigenous peoples affected by the controversial Belo Monte Dam complex now under construction along the Xingu River in the Brazilian Amazon have occupied the Pimental coffer dam that cuts across channels of the river since last Thursday, June 21. Warriors from the Xikrin and Juruna indigenous groups arrived from the Bacajá River and Big Bend of the Xingu River in order to occupy one of Belo Monte’s main dams and work camps, expressing dissatisfaction with the blatant disregard of their rights and the dam building consortium’s non-compliance with socio-environmental mitigation measures. The groups independently organized the action and are demanding the presence of the Norte Energia (NESA) dam-building consortium and the Brazilian government.

The occupiers come from a region of the Xingu downstream of Belo Monte that would suffer from a permanent drought provoked by diversion of 80% of the river’s flow into an artificial dam to feed the dam’s powerhouse.

An indigenous man at the site of the Pimental coffer dam, occupied since June 21, 2012
An indigenous man at the site of the Pimental coffer dam, occupied since June 21, 2012
Photo by Mário de Paula/TV Liberal

The indigenous peoples are outraged that promised actions by government-led Norte Energia – many of which constitute legal obligations of environmental licenses issued for the Belo Monte complex – have not been implemented. According to protest leaders, a program designed to mitigate and compensate impacts of the mega-dam project on indigenous peoples and their territories known as the PBA (Plano Básico Ambiental) has not been presented in local villages as promised.

The protestors also claim that a promised system to ensure small boat navigation in the vicinity of the coffer dams has not been implemented by NESA, leaving them isolated from Altamira, a market for goods and the main source of healthcare and other essential services. The interruption of boat transportation along the Xingu is expected to force indigenous peoples to open up access roads to their villages, provoking further pressures from illegal loggers, land speculators, cattle ranchers and squatters.  

According to the Xikrin and other indigenous leaders, the coffer dams at Pimental have already compromised water quality downriver on the Xingu due to siltation and stagnation, making it undrinkable and unsuitable for bathing. Norte Energia promised to install wells and potable water distribution systems in indigenous villages, but no such works have been carried out. The protestors at Pimental also point to the lack of legal recognition and demarcation of several indigenous territories in the area of influence of Belo Monte, such as Terra Wangã, Paquiçamba, Juruena do km 17 and Cachoeira Seca, all legal prerequisites for dam construction. 

The protestors camping out at the Pimental coffer dam on the Xingu are calling for immediate suspension of the installation license for Belo Monte.

Text written by men assembled in the Bacajá village in the Trincheira-Bacajá indigenous territory declared:

Stop this and let our river run. Let our boats navigate the river. Stop this and let the river run so that our children can drink and bathe in its waters. If they build this dam the river will become ruined, its waters will no longer be good. The river will be dry; how will we be able to navigate and travel?

Let the river run so that our people can continue to hunt in the jungle so that our children and grandchildren can eat, so that the river runs freely and we can fish in the early morning to nourish our children.

Our studies* were poorly completed and now you speak of a dam. We do not like this. The Basic Environmental Plan [to mitigate social and environmental impacts] has not even begun to be implemented and they are already building the dam. We do not like this. We want this Belo Monte dam to stop once and for all! (Translation by anthropologist Clarice Cohn.)

*Referring to a study on impacts of Belo Monte on the Bacajá River, a major tributary of the Xingu located downriver from the Pimental Dam site on the Volta Grande, where 80% of the river flow would be diverted.

Media contacts: 

Brent Millikan, International Rivers +55 61 8153 7009,
Verena Glass, Movimento Xingu Vivo +55 11 9853 9950,