Indigenous Peoples Launch New Occupation on Belo Monte Dam Site

International Rivers, Amazon Watch and CIMI
Friday, May 3, 2013

Seven tribes from the Xingu and Tapajós rivers protest violations of right to prior consultation in construction of Amazonian dams

*Hi-res photos available (©Ruy Sposati/CIMI)

Altamira, Pará, Brazil: Approximately 200 indigenous people affected by the construction of large hydroelectric dams in the Amazon launched an occupation yesterday at one of the main construction sites of the Belo Monte Dam complex in the municipality of Victoria de Xingu. They demand that the Brazilian government adopt effective legislation on prior consultations with indigenous peoples regarding projects that affect their lands and livelihoods. Until then, they are demanding the immediate suspension of all construction, technical studies and police operations related to dams along the Xingu, Tapajós and Teles Pires rivers. Shock troops of the Military Police were awaiting the indigenous protestors when they arrived at the Belo Monte Dam site, but they were unable to impede the occupation.

About 200 indigenous people affected by the construction of hydroelectric dams on the Xingu, Tapajós and Teles Pires rivers began an occupation of the largest construction site of the Belo Monte Dam on Thursday, May 2. They are demanding the suspension of dam construction until regulated free, prior and informed consultations with indigenous peoples, and the withdrawal of troops from their land.
About 200 indigenous people affected by the construction of hydroelectric dams on the Xingu, Tapajós and Teles Pires rivers began an occupation of the largest construction site of the Belo Monte Dam on Thursday, May 2. They are demanding the withdrawal of troops from their land and the suspension of dam construction until there are regulated free, prior and informed consultations with indigenous peoples.
Photo courtesy of Ruy Sposati /Agência Raízes

The indigenous protestors include members of the Juruna, Kayapó, Xipaya, Kuruaya, Asurini, Parakanã, and Arara tribes from the Xingu River, as well as warriors of the Munduruku, a large tribe from the neighboring Tapajós River Basin. The indigenous peoples have been joined by fishermen and the local riverine communities from the Xingu. Initial reports indicate that approximately six thousand workers at the main Belo Monte construction site have not only ceased operations as a result of the protest, but according to Antonia Melo, coordinator of the Movimento Xingu Vivo Para Sempre, greeted the occupiers with applause as they arrived. The occupation, according to the indigenous communities, will continue indefinitely or until the federal government meets their demands.

"Our forest and our river are one of the last natural heritages of Brazil. It's sad to think: why are there so many dams planned on only one river?" Said Saw Exebu, spokesperson for the general chief of the Munduruku."We don't want this to happen on our lands. We don't want dams built in our home, the Tapajós."

Occupations against the Belo Monte dam complex and mobilizations against other Amazonian dams have become increasingly commonplace. Construction on Belo Monte has been halted on at least seven occasions over the last year due to the efforts of affected indigenous communities and fishermen to call attention to the failures of the Norte Energia dam building consortium and government agencies to comply with the project's mandated environmental and social conditions. On March 21st, approximately 100 indigenous peoples, riverbank dwellers (ribeirinhos) and small farmers expelled dam workers and occupied the Pimental site, maintained by the Belo Monte Construction Consortium (CCBM).

Additionally, recent strikes and protests by dam workers have created additional unrest at CCBM construction sites. On April 5th, five thousand workers at the Pimental construction site paralyzed operations in protest over poor working conditions and the unjustified firing of 80 employees at the end of last year. Labor unrest increased after the discovery last February that CCBM and the federal government’s intelligence agency, ABIN, have been involved in covert surveillance of social movements opposed to Belo Monte, as well as suspicion that CCBM employees have been organizing workers to press for better working conditions.

The Munduruku indigenous people and other local communities have mobilized against a cascade of over a dozen large dams slated for construction on the neighboring Tapajós River and its major tributaries, the Teles Pires, Juruena and Jamanxim. One of the first major dams under construction, UHE Teles Pires has been the subject of lawsuits by Federal Public Prosecutors for lack of prior consultations with the Kayabi, Apiaká and Munduruku indigenous peoples. In recent weeks, the removal of funeral urns of the Munduruku people by dam contractors at the Sete Quedas rapids – considered a sacred site for indigenous tribes – provoked outrage. 

In March 2013, President Dilma Rousseff signed Decree no. 7957/2013, allowing the use of the National Guard and other armed forces to ensure that dam construction at places like Belo Monte and technical studies for planned Amazonian dams are not interrupted by indigenous protestors. In April, upon a request from the Ministry of Mines and Energy, approximately 250 Federal and Military Police troops were dispatched to the Tapajós region to ensure continuation of technical studies for the first two large dams scheduled for construction, São Luiz do Tapajós and Jatobá. Known as Operação Tapajós, the military operation came in response to protests from the Munduruku people whose traditional lands would be directly affected by the two large dams.

The Munduruku are especially wary of military operations on their lands. Last November, an armed operation – Operação Eldorado – of the National Guard and Federal Police occupied a Munduruku village on the Teles Pires River, supposedly to combat illegal mining. The operation resulted in the shooting and killing of Adilson Munduruku by a federal police officer, an episode that still awaits a full investigation. According to Munduruku leaders, the two military operations were designed as a means of intimidation against protests over planned dams in the Tapajós Basin. The letter issued yesterday by Munduruku and other indigenous protestors at the Belo Monte Dam site shows that they have not been successful.

"Today's protest demonstrates the relentless resistance of a growing group of united peoples against Belo Monte, Tapajós and other destructive dams throughout the Amazon," said Leila Salazar-Lopez, Amazon Watch Program Director. "These are the final moments to change course as construction closes in on the Xingu and other lifeline rivers of the Amazon."

Media contacts: