Belo Monte: The Cry of the "Demons"

"The Kaiapó people, represented by Chief Raoni Metuktire, incensed at your offensive declarations in calling indigenous people "DEMONS AND BACKWARDS" in your comments regarding the construction of the Belo Monte Hydroelectric Dam invite you to be present at our protest..."

Thus, Kaiapó leaders addressed Brazil's Mines and Energy Minister Edison Lobão in announcing a major gathering to be held later this month to mobilize indigenous opposition to what would be Brazil's largest dam on the Xingu River.

The mobilization will take place in the village of the venerable Raoni, the best-known symbol internationally of Brazil's cultural diversity. In a letter to President Lula, the Kaiapó further explained their position: "We don't want this dam to destroy the ecosystems and the biodiversity that we have taken care of for millenia and which we can still preserve. Mr. President, our cry is for studies that are well-done and which seek to discuss with indigenous peoples this great ecological cradle of our ancestors...we want to participate in this process without being treated as evil demons who block the country's evolution".

Lawyers at Brazil's Socioambiental Institute explained the legal issues this way: "The right to prior consent is an obligation of the State to ask the indigenous peoples, in an adequate and respectful way, their opinion regarding decisions which could affect their lives. The objective of consultation is to arrive at an agreement with the affected indigenous peoples regarding the conditions for a decision by the State, or to obtain their consent regarding such decisions".

To date, no such consultation has taken place regarding Belo Monte, despite the fact that diverse indigenous peoples will be affected in distinct ways. Indigenous peoples of the Xingu have made their opposition to the dam extremely clear. For the Kaiapó of Raoni's village, 600 miles upstream, the project's main impacts would be its potential effects on migratory fish stocks that are a principal part of the Kaiapó's diet, and on Belo Monte's effect in accelerating deforestation and land conflicts throughout the basin.

But, for the Juruna, Arara, Xipaia, and Kaiapó communities living along the Xingu's Big Bend, the impacts would be more immediate, and the diversion of the river and the enormous scale of excavation, work sites, and waste piles would not only decimate their fish, but would pollute their water, destroy the agricultural potential of their lands, kill their forests, and leave them stranded in a concrete jungle of huge dykes, canals, and roads. Some government experts have recommended that these indigenous people be moved off their lands to make way for the dam.

Still, no one has bothered to ask the indigenous people what they think about what would be the world's third-largest dam, or what kind of future they want for their people. Maybe they're afraid to. Better to call them "demons" for questioning the wisdom of the technocrats, corrupt politicians, construction giants, and banks that are drooling over the possibility of getting their hands on part of the estimated $16 billion that will flow through the Xingu if Belo Monte gets the go-ahead.