Tribes Decry Dilma's Plans to Build Dams in Indigenous Territory

Zachary Hurwitz

The Macuxi Tribe are fighting against the proposed Cotingo Dam in Raposa Serra do Sol territory
The Macuxi Tribe are fighting against the proposed Cotingo Dam in Raposa Serra do Sol territory
Eliane Potiguara

In 2005, after years of fighting, the Macuxi indigenous people finally won title from the Lula administration to their own indigenous territory, called Raposa Serra do Sol. Then followed a heated legal battle to remove non-indigenous people from the lands, including ranchers and rice growers who had illegally invaded the area in the 1970s. The Brazilian Supreme Court decided to enforce the removal of the non-indigenous people from the territory in 2009. Now over 50,000 indigenous people in the area are fighting a new threat: a Dilma administration proposal to build hydroelectric dams inside of their territory. 

The plans call for four dams with a possible fifth inside of the Raposa Serra do Sol territory, on the Cotingo River in the state of Roraima, which borders Venezuela and Guyana. The river forms part of the Rio Branco basin, which flows into the Amazon River. However, Brazil's 1988 Constitution explicitly prohibits both the construction of hydroelectric dams inside of indigenous peoples' territories and the flooding of their lands. This is one of the best laws on the books in Brazil. But as Dilma's fever for dam-building in the Amazon continues, the Brazilian Congress is now considering a proposal to amend the Constitution and upend the rule. Doing so would be a direct affront to the 2005 Supreme Court ruling that demarcated Raposa Serra do Sol – as well as Brazil's adherence to internationally-recognized standards on indigenous peoples' rights laid out in the United Nations Declaration on Indigenous Peoples Rights (UNDRIP) and ILO Convention 169 – in favor of producing electricity to power Brazilian parastatal corporations that extract and trade in mineral and grain commodities.  

That's why over 50,000 indigenous people from eight tribes of the area have decided to unanimously raise their voices and shout a clear "no" to Dilma and her plans to dam the Rio Branco basin. Below is our translation of their declaration from October 6th, 2011, read at a seminar on climate change and REDD+ in the city of Boa Vista. 


Boa Vista - RR, 06 October 2011.
Seminar on Climate Change and REDD +

We, Macuxi, Ingarikó, Wapichana, Taurepang, Yanomami, Yekuana, Wai-Wai and Waimiri-Atroari indigenous people, with a population of 52,000 living in 500 communities located throughout the state of Roraima, and members of the Indigenous Council of Roraima - CIR, the Organization of Indigenous Women of Roraima - OMIR, the Council of Indigenous People Ingarikó - COPING, the Hutukara Yanomami Association, and the Association Waimiri-Atroari, are extremely uneasy with PDC 2540/2006, which aims to give permission for the construction of a hydroelectric dam on the Tamanduá Waterfall in our Cotingo River within the Indigenous Territory Raposa Serra do Sol - RR, and we repudiate and express our firmest rejection of this PDL for the following reasons:

1. The Raposa Serra do Sol - RR, declared a permanent possession by Decree 534/06 of the Indian Ministry of Justice and ratified on April 15, 2005, approved by the Decree of the President, and confirmed by the decision of the Supreme Court, represents an important recognition of the land rights of Indigenous Peoples in Brazil;

2. We suffered and struggled for over thirty years to reach this formal recognition. Unfortunately, although we indigenous peoples have always worked hard to come to have our rights respected and applied, there are many proposals that pass through Congress, treated by private interests as national interests and political demands, which change our collective rights, and offend our people;

3. The proposed Project of Legislative Decree no. 2540/2006, an initiative of Senator Mozarildo Cavalcanti - RR, would authorize the construction of the Cotingo Hydroelectric Dam on the Tamanduá Waterfall of the Cotingo River, which reaches all the indigenous communities of Raposa Serra do Sol.  This would directly affect our indigenous rights and interests, demobilizing our exclusive use and possession of this land, causing serious breaches;

4. Such a proposal would hurt our constitutional rights. The 1988 Constitution is very clear in stating that a statutory law is required, approved by Congress, which establishes the specific conditions for the use of water resources in indigenous lands, as provided for in §1 of article 176 of the Federal Constitution;

5. The Legislative Decree 2540/2006 has been approved by the Senate, the Committees of the Amazon, National Integration and Regional Development, and the Environment and Sustainable Development Committee of the House of Representatives, but without the necessary care that should be provided by law; PDC 2540 is currently underway in the Constitutional Commission of Justice and Citizenship, and was rejected by the Rapporteur Rep. Luiz Couto due to unconstitutionality, and due to a separate vote by Rep. Francisco Araujo - RR which proposes to increase the number to five dams on the Cotingo River;

6. The Congress cannot give a blind authorization without considering or knowing what will be executed or how we will be affected.  It cannot allow such a claim without knowing the real extent of the consequences of the construction of a hydroelectric plant on the Tamanduá Waterfall in the Cotingo River, before validating the project's economic viability after assessing the social, cultural, economic and environmental risks;

7. On the other hand, the federal government, through the Superintendence and Management of Hydroenergetic Studies (SGH) of ANEEL, approved by means of Order 3785, published in the Official Gazette of 21 September 2011, the inventory of the Rio Branco basin in Roraima, whose field work was done between 2008 and 2009 by the Company Hydros Engenharia Ltda.;

8. These studies have a total inventoried power of approximately 1,049 megawatts (MW) distributed in four hydroelectric plants. In Mucajai River, a tributary of the Rio Branco, the Paredão M1 Dam, with installed capacity of 69.90 MW; the Paredão A Dam, with installed capacity of 199.30 MW, and the Fé e Esperança Dam, with installed capacity of 71.70 MW were approved; on the Rio Branco, the Bem-Querer J1A Dam was approved, with installed capacity of 708.40 MW, which is part of the Growth Acceleration Program (PAC) of the Federal Government;

9. The justification of a project to produce energy as needed for development should include all the information needed to make a democratic decision and to respect indigenous rights. If the country wants to grow, why sacrifice its indigenous peoples? Development for whom? What kind of development? Why build a dam in our Raposa Serra do Sol? You have to research and study whether there are other possibilities that do not require using the energy of rivers that are on indigenous lands;

10. It is important to note here that the Constituent Assembly that exclusively assigned to Congress the role of authorizing the exploration of potential water and minerals on Indian lands became the guardian of the rights and interests of indigenous peoples, which must be carefully analyzed in relation to other national interests when it comes specifically to these types of ventures. That is, the exploitation of nonrenewable resources in indigenous lands should only occur in exceptional circumstances and in circumstances determined by the Constitution, which is up to Congress to observe.  Therefore, the responsibility for granting approval for the exploitation of hydropower resources in indigenous lands is a large one, and it involves extreme caution. The concession is made by the competent organ of the executive branch of the Union (CF, art. 176, introduction, and §1, first part), after authorization issued by the National Congress (CF, art. 49, XVI, and 231, §3) , after hearing the affected communities (CF, art. 231, §3). In addition, the law should lay down specific conditions for this type of concession (CF, art. 176, §1 in fine) and regulate the participation of these communities in the mining results (CF, art. 231, §3 in fine);

11. There is still the law that regulates the specific conditions that may occur in the exploitation of water resources and minerals on indigenous lands. There are several proposals to regulate the matter, including the PL 2057/91, which provides for the Status of Indigenous Peoples, processed by the Board;

12. The right of access guaranteed by the Constitution and the right to free, prior and informed consent granted by ILO Convention 169, which provides rules on how indigenous peoples will be heard, must be met before any procedure for the construction and all stages of this process;

13. We understand that the problems begin with the construction of the hydroelectric plant, where our land is again being raped, robbed, and invaded. The construction of the Cotingo Dam is a new invasion of our land, will have great social, cultural and environmental impacts, such as the destruction of our burití palm crops, our forests on the slopes of the mountains, the disappearance of several of our animal and plant species, the prohibition of access roads to our communities, impacts to our natural resources, the alteration of the natural flow of our river, and many other damages;

14. The construction of a hydroelectric plant on our land will cause harm to the physical, social, economic and cultural development of indigenous peoples, will encourage a high invasion of non-Indians into the Raposa Serra do Sol Indigenous Territories Tamanduá, Caraparú I, III and IV, Waramadá, Taboca, Água Fria, Manaparú, Tabatinga, Pedra Preta, Kumai´pa, Maloquinha, São Luiz, Estevo, Mudubim and São Mateus, who all feel restless due to the threats of their forced removal from their traditional lands and sacred sites;

15. For these reasons, we do not accept the imposition of projects and decisions that may affect our Raposa Serra do Sol Territory without our active participation. The Brazilian government needs to respect, implement and enforce the rights guaranteed in our Constitution and internationally recognized laws;

16. We support the vote of Rep. Luiz Couto, Rapporteur of the CCJC and request the rejection of PDC 2540/06, which is being processed in the House of Representatives, because it is unconstitutional and contrary to the respect of our rights and interests.

With indigenous greetings, the undersigned.

Conselho Indígena de Roraima - CIR
Organização das Mulheres Indígenas de Roraima - OMIR
Conselho do Povo Ingarikó - COPING
Hutukara Associação Yanomami - HAY
Associação da Comunidade WAIMIRI-ATROARI

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