Indigenous leaders, community members, rural workers and members of social movements are receiving death threats because of their opposition to the Belo Monte Dam Complex on the Xingu River in Pará, Brazil.
The threats, which have been going on for some time now, are adding to an extremely tense situation which has only worsened since Brazil’s federal environmental agency (IBAMA) granted a license for the construction of the Belo Monte dam on June 1, 2011.
Given the recent string of assassinations in Brazil, human rights organizations should be on full alert.
Note: The following report was originally issued in Portuguese on June 9, 2011. You can access the original report at http://www.cimi.org.br/?system=news&action=read&id=5610&eid=274. Thanks to CIMI for the translation.
Interviews with persons receiving death threats (also in Portuguese) can be found at http://youtu.be/Vcg998ukRVs
Stop the Belo Monte Monster Dam! http://amazonwatch.org/take-action/stop-the-belo-monte-monster-dam
Indigenous peoples, peoples living on the banks of the rivers, peasants, rural workers and members of social movements are reporting receiving death threats due to their participation in the fight against Belo Monte. Intimidation is being used, including against communities, but in the most vehement manner against indigenous leaders at the head of the movement in opposition to construction of the hydroelectric dam, scheduled to be installed in the Big Bend region of the Xingu river in the state of Pará.
With the threats received, the leaders are trapped and cannot even leave their villages and communities. “I am trapped in my own village,” says one indigenous leader. The aggressions are the result of an already existing conflicted situation in the region, especially with regard to indigenous peoples and their traditional lands. The situation, which has worsened following the issuing of the installation license for Belo Monte by the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA) on June 1st.
In the area there live family farmers, fishermen, forest gatherers, traditional communities and indigenous peoples, who have for some time already faced a delicate land tenure situation, in which there are occupations that are not legalized; indigenous lands that are not yet demarcated and/or are invaded. The leaders believe, however, that the conflict is likely to intensify with the demarcation and removal of invaders from the indigenous lands, which has been established as one of the conditions for the construction of the dam.
“The demarcation is one right that we do have, therefore we do not consider it as a [form of] compensation for the installation of Belo Monte. It is the duty of FUNAI and the Brazilian government to ensure our land and especially our permanence in the area,” declares one leader. Established as one of the  conditions, the matter has even further intensified conflicts between settlers and squatters who live in these territories and the indigenous communities.
Any action, interview or speech against the construction of Belo Monte has characterized the expectation of a threat. Leaders report that they receive calls with people saying, ‘You are going to die tomorrow’. They nevertheless reaffirm their position in opposition to the hydroelectric dam, the conditions established for the construction of the same – which are only paliative measures, and the authoritarian and disrespectful attitude of governmental agencies, which despite all the evidence of technical, economic and social unviability of the hydroelectric, issued a positive opinion and the installation license for the project.
Examples of inefficiency and disastrous impacts of these large-scale enterprises are plentiful. Labor strikes, conflicts, threats and intimidations, persecution and assassination are just some of the problems faced by communities living near these projects. There is no shortage of reports related to the increasing cases of prostitution and sexual exploitation, including of minors, high rates of alcoholism, criminality and violence, as well as unemployment, lack of infrastructure and difficulties in accessing basic health and education services.
The occupation of the Dardanelos hydroelectric plant in the town of Aripuanã, in the state of Mato Grosso, is this morning another example of the impacts and conflicts generated by the choices of the federal government in relation to the large-scale enterprises, many of which directly affect several indigenous communities. Representatives of the Cinta Larga and the Arara people are on site, for an indefinite period, demanding the government comply with what it promised at the time of licensing for construction of the dam.
As in Belo Monte and other works in progress, the government determined that conditions were met so that they could sign off on the Dardanelos hydroelectric, which did not happen. At the plant in question, for example, the indigenous peoples fight for the promise of incentives to fish-farming and assistance to the villages, in addition to financial and socio-environmental compensation, due to the impact of the construction of the plant in the region.
With Belo Monte the same is promised: infrastructure improvements, employment generation and increased income, better quality of life, construction of schools and hospitals. Smiling deception. To date, this has not occurred in any project already constructed, or in any currently under construction. It is more than sufficient to remember the conflicts in the state of Rondônia with the workers at the Jirau plant. (March 2011 Bank Information Center article with maps)
For Cleber Buzatto, adjunct secretary of the Indigenist Missionary Council (CIMI), Belo Monte will bring no benefit to the population of Altamira and other communities near the project. “The construction of large projects in the Amazon – which rely on coordination and financing of the Brazilian government – endorses and empowers the violation of human rights, including threats and assassinations of popular leaders in the region.”
All complaints, according to indigenous leaders, were sent to the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI), the latter being responsible for bringing the threats to the attention of the Federal Police.
Indigenous Peoples are putting their bodies on the line and it's our responsibility to make sure you know why. That takes time, expertise and resources - and we're up against a constant tide of misinformation and distorted coverage. By supporting IC you're empowering the kind of journalism we need, at the moment we need it most.