Defending the Xingu River basin from the Belo Monte Dam

Indigenous people protest at the site of the Belo Monte Dam, photo by Ivan Canabrava/Amazon Watch.

Last week, on October 27 in Altamira, Brazil, the Belo Monte Dam construction site was occupied by 400 indigenous people, fishermen and community members intending to permanently occupy the site and calling allied organizations and movements to join them. The occupation was a collective decision made by 700 representatives from local communities who attended a seminar against the Belo Monte Dam held the week before in Altamira.

Protesters notified the Brazilian government about the occupation and participating groups released a statement saying: “In the face of the Brazilian government’s intransigence to dialogue and continuing disrespect, we occupied the Belo Monte construction site and blocked the Trans-Amazon highway. We demand a definitive cancellation of the Belo Monte Dam.”

Juma Xipaia, a local indigenous leader, explained, “We only demand what our Constitution already ensures us: our rights. Our ancestors fought so we could be here now. Many documents and meetings have already transpired and nothing has changed. The machinery continues to arrive to destroy our region.”

After 15 hours, protesters were disbursed from the construction site with the arrival of two justice officials and three lawyers from Norte Energia (the dam-building consortium), who carried an injunction in favor of the consortium. Upon informing the protesters about the judicial order, officials threatened that “Shock Troops” were surrounding the area, ready to act.

This was a substantial change from the Monday prior, when a federal judge in Brazil stated that the environmental licensing of the controversial Belo Monte Dam was illegal given the lack of consultations with affected indigenous communities.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States (OAS) also requested explanation from the Brazilian Government regarding the rights of indigenous peoples affected by the dam, in April. According to the OAS, the Brazilian Government is obligated to consult indigenous peoples who will be affected by the dam, before construction begins.

On October 26, the day prior to the occupation and blockade, Brazilian government officials refused to attend a closed hearing convened by the IAHCR intended to foster dialogue toward resolving this conflict.

A statement by groups participating in what they called “#Occupy Belo Monte Dam” said this of the blockade: “The unprecedented occupation of the Belo Monte construction site was a direct result of an autonomous and sovereign decision by indigenous people and fishermen from the Xingu River basin and is considered the landmark of a new alliance in the struggle against the Belo Monte Dam. The mutual recognition and partnerships sealed this week among the segments that will suffer the most with the destruction of the Xingu River marks a new, stronger level of the fight against Belo Monte. Such unprecedented partnership between indigenous people and fishermen shows that the people from Xingu are united to defend the river, nature and their traditional way of life.

Our resistance against this destructive project called Belo Monte remains unshakable. The occupation has sent a clear message to President Dilma Rousseff’s administration that the fight for the Xingu is more alive than ever. If the Brazilian government continues to insist on violating our rights, other resistance actions shall come.”

The statement was signed by the following groups:

-Coordenação das Organizações Indígenas da Amazônia Brasileira – COIAB
-Comissão Pastoral da Terra – CPT
-Conselho Indigenista Missionário – CIMI
-Movimento Xingu Vivo para Sempre – MXVPS

Hundreds of international solidarity action have also occurred around the world in recent months.

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