Amazon mega-dams stoke new wave of Indian protests

October 27, 2009

Kayapó at an anti-dam protest, Piaraçu, Mato Grosso, Brazil, 2006. Two hundred representatives of the Mebegokre Kayapó people met for five days to discuss the Belo Monte dam and four other dams which will devastate their lands. © Terence Turner/Survival

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Kayapó Indians are to hold a protest against a huge hydro-electric dam planned for Brazil’s Xingu River, one of the Amazon’s main tributaries.

The week-long protest will start on 28 October and take place in the Kayapó community of Piaraçu. At least 200 Indians are expected to gather. Representatives from Brazil’s Ministry of Mines and Energy, and the Ministry of the Environment, have been invited there to talk with the Indians.

The Kayapó and other Indigenous peoples oppose the dam, saying they have not been properly consulted about it and have not been informed of its true impacts on their lands.

The dam will divert more than 80% of the flow of the Xingu River, and have a major impact on fish stocks and forests along a 100 km stretch of the river inhabited by Indigenous peoples. Survival has protested to the government about the project.

The Kayapó are furious with Edison Lobão, the Minister of Mines and Energy, who recently stated that ‘demoniac forces’ were preventing the construction of large hydro-electric dams in Brazil. Kayapó leader Megaron Txucarramae said, ‘These words are very ugly and are offensive to us and to those who defend nature.’

Belo Monte is one of the largest infrastructure projects in the government’s Accelerated Growth Programme. In 1989 the Kayapó organised a massive protest against a series of dams planned for the Xingu River. They successfully lobbied the World Bank to pull out of funding the project, which was then shelved.

Dams planned for other Amazon rivers are also the target of Indigenous protests. A year ago, the Enawene Nawe tribe ransacked a dam building site in a bid to stop dozens of dams planned for the Juruena river. The Indians say the dams will ruin the fishing on which they depend.

In the western Amazon, the Santo Antônio dam, part of a complex of dams being built on the Madeira River, will flood the land of at least five groups of uncontacted Indians. One group is thought to live only 14 kilometres from the main dam construction site.

In a letter to President Lula, the Kayapó 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 hold back the country’s evolution.’

Survival’s Director Stephen Corry said today, ‘The real impact of the dams has been hidden. If they go ahead they will destroy the lives, land and livelihoods of many tribes. No amount of compensation can ever make up for damage on this scale, that will wreck peoples’ lives and independence.’

Enawene Nawe