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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Indigenous Peoples Renew Occupation of Belo Monte Dam
Local tribes halt construction and demand removal of illegal settlers from territories
Altamira, Brazil - September 17 - Some 150 indigenous people affected by the construction of the Belo Monte dam complex in the Brazilian Amazon occupied one of the project's principle work camps yesterday, halting construction activities on a section of the world's third largest dam. Members of the local Parakanã and Juruna indigenous communities blocked a main access road to demand that the dam-building consortium Norte Energia respect its obligation to remove land invaders from local indigenous territories in compliance with mandated conditions meant to mitigate the dam's serious socio-environmental impacts.
After negotiations with local authorities, indigenous leaders agreed to travel to Brasilia to meet today with President Rousseff's Chief of Staff Gilberto Carvalho and the President of Brazil's Indigenous Foundation FUNAI Maria Augusta Boulitreau Assirati in an effort to secure their demands.
The mobilization marks the eighth time Belo Monte has been occupied since 2012 as indigenous and local communities increasingly resort to direct action to attempt to force Norte Energia and the Brazilian government to recognize their legal and constitutional rights. After staging a 17-day occupation of Belo Monte in June, Amazonian indigenous leaders were flown to Brasilia to meet with a group of ministers including Mr. Carvalho, only to learn that the government would not meet their demands, nor respect their constitutional right to be consulted prior to the initiation of dam survey and construction activities.
Speaking of his meeting with FUNAI's President in June, indigenous leader Temekwareyma Parakanã said: "They promised to remove illegal settlers from our land by the 10th of September and we have come [to occupy the dam] to insure this is carried out."
Leaders from the Juruna Paquiçamba indigenous territory, one of the most affected by Belo Monte given its proximity to the dam's work camps and its placement on a devastated stretch of the Xingu River, are demanding that their territory be enlarged and protected from increasingly frequent invasions by outsiders.
The indigenous protestors contend that the removal of illegal settlers from their territories was a prerequisite of Belo Monte's construction, yet while the project has neared completion the invasion of their lands has only worsened. In a declaration issued before the occupation of the dam's work camp on the Xingu River, the Parakanã people state: "We are telling the federal government and Norte Energia that we are tired of waiting for you to resolve the fact that our lands have been invaded illegally by farmers, land grabbers, miners, loggers, and colonizers who for many years have destroyed our traditional territory, preventing us from hunting, planting, or caring for our children, while threatening our people...The government does not care about our territory, it does not care about indigenous people, it does not care about our suffering; it only cares about Belo Monte."
"This protest shows yet again the indignation of indigenous populations that have had their rights systematically disrespected," said Antonia Melo of the Xingu Alive Forever Movement. "Two years passed with no resolution nor implementation for protection of their lands as was promised. The government is leaving them in an extremely vulnerable situation while making it clear that they do not care about traditional populations."
The latest occupation comes at a time when the consortium faces mounting court challenges over its handling of legally required conditions placed upon the dam's environmental licensing, facing major fines if it continues to neglect its responsibility to the region's affected indigenous peoples. Brazil's Federal Public Prosecutors (MPF) have recently filed lawsuits demanding accountability from the Norte Energia consortium for noncompliance with mandated mitigation measures concerning local indigenous groups affected by Belo Monte. In a groundbreaking decision, the Federal Court of Pará State responded last week by giving Norte Energia 60 days to purchase the Juruna land and deliver health care or face daily fines of R$200,000 (US$87,000).
Since construction initiated on the mega-project in 2011, tens of thousands of people have migrated to the lower Xingu region in search of work. As only a small percentage of migrants have found direct employment on Belo Monte, many have sought alternative livelihoods in the region's protected areas, greatly exacerbating land conflicts and causing illegal deforestation to soar. While Norte Energia is required to mitigate these conflicts through the implementation of project "conditionalities" the consortium has reneged its responsibility, benefitting from lax oversight by the federal government. Its negligence has increased social instability and permitted the widespread invasion of indigenous territories, prompting the latest of a series of indigenous-led occupations aimed at halting the project.