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Amazon Tribes Demand to Be Heard: 'You Are Killing Us'

In nature versus profits battle, indigenous groups occupy controversial Belo Monte Dam

Andrea Germanos, staff writer

"We're not leaving until you get out of our villages."

So ends a letter written Tuesday from a group of indigenous protesters now in the sixth day of their occupation of the main construction site of the controversial Belo Monte Dam, which would be the world's third largest hydroelectric dam.

Hundreds of indigenous peoples and supporters gathered at the site near Altamira in the Brazilian state of Pará demanding legislation be adopted that would require consultations with indigenous tribes prior to projects that would affect them and their lands, and demanding the federal government hear their demands.

The group outlined their demands in a letter at the launch of the occupation.  In it, they write:

You are pointing guns at our heads. You raid our territories with war trucks and soldiers. You have made the fish disappear and you are robbing the bones of our ancestors who are buried on our lands. [...]

You are the ones killing us, quickly or slowly. We're dying and with each dam that is built, more of us will die. When we try to talk with you, you bring tanks, helicopters, soldiers, machine guns and stun weapons.

What we want is simple: You need to uphold the law and promote enacting legislation on free, prior and Informed consent for indigenous peoples. Until that happens you need to stop all construction, studies, and police operations in the Xingu, Tapajós and Teles Pires rivers. And then you need to consult us.

"We're dying and with each dam that is built, more of us will die."The occupation has reportedly halted construction work, affecting six thousands workers.

There are reports of journalists that have been prevented from entering the site and have been fined for being there, people the protesters say "help convey our voice to the world."

Agence France-Presse reports on some of the damage the dam would cause:

Belo Monte, which is being built at a cost of $13 billion, is expected to flood an area of 500 square kilometers (200 square miles) along the Xingu River, displacing 16,000 people, according to the government.

Some NGOs have estimated that some 40,000 people would be displaced by the massive project. [...]


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Indigenous groups say the dam will harm their way of life while environmentalists warn of deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions and irreparable damage to the ecosystem.

As International Rivers explains, the battle over the Belo Monte Dam represents a bigger struggle:

Many Brazilians believe that if Belo Monte is approved, it will represent a carte blanche for the destruction of all the magnificent rivers of the Amazon - next the Tapajós, the Teles Pires, then the Araguaia-Tocantins, and so on. The Amazon will become an endless series of lifeless reservoirs, its life drained away by giant walls of concrete and steel.

One of the groups that has joined the occupation is the Munduruku people of the Tapajós River basin.  Their General Chief Saw outlined why the dam and its construction would be so disastrous, as Amazon Watch reports:

"We understand that nature is not there for anyone to use to accumulate great wealth. We learned from our ancestors that nature has to be respected, that a tree is useful for us, that the river is important, that the animals, and even the small insects are essential parts of life. We depend on nature for everything. The entire forest gives us life, gives us food. Therefore we say that Nature is our mother."

"The fact is that there is only one earth and that nature provides everything. It transforms the indigenous' universe and this often isn't understood by 'white' people. But this is the indigenous reality and that is why our peoples are uniting in order to put an end to the damage caused by the Federal Government.

"Our world was big. We have already lost enough lands. Now, it's enough!"

"We come asking for peace, respect, and the upholding of the laws under the Constitution," said Saw.

What’s the true cost of Belo Monte Dam? International Rivers asks.

The answer is that no one knows yet. What’s clear is that Belo Monte will be the one of the largest, most devastating infrastructure projects ever to be built in the Amazon.

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