Approximately 850 people protested on Monday in Brazil’s capital Brasília against the Belo Monte mega-dam which is due to be constructed in the Brazilian Amazon.
If built, the dam will be one of the largest in the world. It will flood a large area of land, dry up certain parts of the Xingu river, and reduce fish stocks upon which Indians in the area, including Kayapó, Arara, Juruna, Araweté, Xikrin, Asurini and Parakanã Indians, depend for their survival.
The dam will also bring many migrants to the area, putting pressure on indigenous land and threatening the Indians by bringing diseases. The uncontacted Indians living in the area have little resistance to outside diseases and for them, these could be fatal.
Many believe that the energy generated by the dam will serve the mining industry. The Brazilian government is currently debating a bill which would allow mining on indigenous land. If the bill is passed, indigenous communities will suffer from environmental degradation and possible land conflicts. Yanomami shaman and spokesman Davi Kopenawa has spoken out against this mining bill which could devastate indigenous peoples.
Representatives of indigenous communities who will be affected by the dam marched on Monday alongside human rights and environmental activists, as well as James Cameron, director of the film ‘Avatar’, and actors of the film Sigourney Weaver and Joel David Moore.
The march began at the Metropolitan Cathedral and passed by the government ministries involved in the controversial project, and the National Congress.
The protesters, backed by numerous national and international organizations, demanded that the preliminary license and the auction where companies bid for contracts for the construction of the dam be canceled. The auction is due to be held on 20 April.
Last month, James Cameron visited indigenous communities of the ‘Big Bend’ region of the Xingu river and said, ‘For people living along the river, as they have for millennia, the dam will end their way of life. I implore the Brazilian government, and President Lula, to reconsider this project’.
On 1st April, a document signed by more than 100 organizations was sent to the United Nations, warning that the project has been illegally approved, that affected communities were not properly consulted and that some activists opposing the dam are receiving death threats.
Last week, Brazil’s Public Prosecutors’ office issued two documents calling for the cancellation of the license for Belo Monte, stating that this is in violation of environmental law and of the Brazilian constitution, and that indigenous peoples in the region were not properly consulted. The reports will be analyzed by a federal judge and the verdict could be presented before the date of the auction.
A network of organizations campaigning for human, environmental and economic rights in Brazil also released a report, condemning the devastating impacts the dam would have and calling for the cancellation of the license.
Some of the companies expected to bid for contracts for the construction of the dam have pulled out of the auction. However, President Lula has insisted that the construction of the dam will go ahead with or without the participation of the companies.
The Indians of the area have held various protests against the dam, and are planning another large protest in the ‘Big Bend’ of the Xingu, before the 20th April. They have warned that they will commence a war if construction of the dam proceeds, and that ‘the Xingu could become a river of blood’.
Survival has protested to the Brazilian government about the project.
Survival is an international organization supporting tribal peoples worldwide.