Water: The next threat for Amazonian Indigenous Peoples
Mira este articulo relacionado en Español aquí,
“Los indios amazónicos protestan contra la construcción de presas”
23/5/08 * Independent *
Amazon Indians lead battle against power giant’s plan to flood rainforest
By Patrick Cunningham in Altamira, Brazil Friday, 23 May 2008
The Amazonian city of Altamira played host to one of the more uneven
contests in recent Brazilian history this week, as a colourful alliance of
indigenous leaders gathered to take on the might of the state power
corporation and stop the construction of an immense hydroelectric dam on a
tributary of the Amazon.
At stake are plans to flood large areas of rainforest to make way for the
huge Belo Monte hydroelectric dam on the Xingu river. The government is
pushing the project as a sustainable energy solution, but critics complain
the environmental and social costs are too high.
For people living beside the river, the dam will bring an end to their way
of life. Thousands of homes will be submerged and changes in the local
ecology will wipe out the livelihoods of many more, killing their main food
sources and destroying their raw materials.
For the 10,000 tribal indians of the Xingu, whose lives have changed little
since the arrival of Europeans five centuries ago, this will be a
“This is the second time we are fighting this battle,” says Chief Bocaire, a
young leader of the Kayapo, one of more than 600 Indians from 35 ethnic
groups who gathered in record numbers in Altamira. The Indians had travelled
hundreds of miles to get there in an area with hardly any roads. The roads
that do exist are mostly dirt tracks, impassable in bad weather and
difficult and dangerous at the best of times. For most it has been an
odyssey of several weeks, travelling in small boats to reach the roads.
“In 1989, our parents defeated a similar proposal with the help of the
international media. Now it is back. But we are ready to fight again. This
time we speak their language, and we are more determined than ever,” says
With so much at stake, tensions spilled over into violence this week when an
engineer from the power company Eletrobras was caught up in a melee with
Indians wielding machetes. Paulo Fernando Rezende had his shirt ripped from
him and was left with a deep cut to his shoulder.
Nineteen years ago, the Indians called on the support of the rock star Sting
and the late Body Shop founder Anita Roddick. Pictures of the pair alongside
Chief Raoni, with his lower lip distended by a traditional lip plate, sent
their message to the outside world.
The reservoir will flood up to 6,140 square kilometres (2,371 square miles).
Scientists say it will cause a dramatic increase in greenhouse-gas
emissions. from the decomposition of organic matter in the stagnant water of
“Hydroelectric dams have severe social impacts,” Philip Fearnside, one of
the world’s leading rainforest scientists explains, “including flooding the
lands of indigenous peoples, displacing non-indigenous residents and
Dr Fearnside said the project helps aluminium plants looking to cash in on
exports but does little for local needs, and in fact increases the health
risks to local populations, including malaria.
For three months in the dry season, the flow of the Xingu reduces to a
trickle and the dam’s turbines will stop working, unable to maintain the
supply of power and necessitating the use of inefficient fossil-fuel power
Last November, Chief Bocaire delivered a letter to President Luis Inacio
Lula da Silva. Signed by 78 leaders, the letter demanded that all dam be
But Glenn Switkes, of International Rivers, says: “The Lula government and
its political allies are closing ranks to ensure it goes ahead no matter
what the cost. The construction cost could be more than 5bn, and Belo Monte
will not be feasible without building other dams upstream to regulate the
flow of the Xingu and that means facing off with the Kayapo.”