Brazil's Madeira Riverbank Dwellers Call for Help

Members of the riverbank communities on Brazil’s Madeira River sent a letter to Brazil’s President Lula da Silva prior to his visit to see work on the two dam sites of Santo Antonio and Jirau, key projects of the Initiative for the Regional Integration of Infrastructure in South America (IIRSA).

The submission of the letter coincided with a large civil society mobilization on March 14th, the International Day of Protest Against Dams, on which the Brazilian Movement of People Affected by Dams (MAB) staged protests in Porto Velho, Brazil, to denounce the Brazilian government’s plans for the Madeira River Complex asking “progress and development, for what and for whom?” The protest was held to highlight the grave social, economic, cultural, and environmental consequences posed by the dams.


Letter by Riverbank dwellers to President Lula


March 12, 2009

Porto Velho, Rondônia state

THE RIVER BANK DWELLERS OF THE MADEIRA RIVER CALL FOR HELP!

DEAR PRESIDENT LUIZ INÁCIO LULA DA SILVA,

We, the river bank dwellers of the Madeira River, descendents of migrants from the Northeast of Brazil who came here at the beginning of the 20th century seeking a better life in the Amazon rainforest, far from the drought and hunger that killed many of our relatives are once again facing, Mr. President, the violation of our fundamental human rights.

Throughout decades, our ancestors fought against all kinds of diseases, and against isolation and the total absence of the Brazilian government. It was very difficult to construct a life in these conditions, but nevertheless, with our capacity of resistance, we learned from the Native peoples, and from generation to generation, that the nature surrounding us protects us and gives us everything! In this way, our great-grandparents and parents taught us to live an abundant life, even facing difficulties...

But, Mr. President of Brazil, progress came to the region beginning in the ‘60's...They cleared the forest for roads, highways, Samuel Dam on the Jamari River, cities, and rural settlements, and we were forgotten and suffered the impacts. We continue to be self-reliant - they cannot see us. Many families had to continue their lives in the cities. Others moved deeper into this rich forest in order to maintain their way-of-life as Forest People.

Now, in the 21st century, we are once again seeing development arriving in the region, and our riverbank communities are being directly impacted by the construction of the Madeira River dams. We are losing our rights over our lives. We no longer have the right to come and go on the Madeira River, which always gave us Life. Now, we who still live close to the Santo Antonio and Jirau rapids are at the mercy of the companies who control our lives. Our relatives and friends cannot get to our homes without the companies' permission. From the free people that we always were, we are now dependents, begging for transportation and for our rights!

Dozens of families were and are being kicked out of their homes and many are not receiving the compensation or fair resettlement they deserve, in accordance with the history of each family, with the length of their residency on the Madeira, and with their expectations to continue living where they are today.

Not even the memory of our relatives buried on the banks of the Madeira River is being respected. Old cemeteries are being drowned to give way to the work site. In addition to taking away the spaces for our life on the banks of the Madeira, they deny us the right to our memory, a fundamental part of our origin and of our history.

In light of this, Mr. President, we call on you to pay special attention to our people who are being impacted and threatened by the Madeira dam complex. We are not against development. We are against the violations of our fundamental human rights guaranteed in the Brazilian Constitution of 1988, which ensures us quality-of-life, a place to live, a healthy diet, and the right to come and go as we choose. Everything that was constructed by our forefathers and by us on the banks of the Madeira is being denied us by the projects that are underway.

This is why we want this letter to reach you, President LULA, because it is our call for help. They are killing our history, and violating our rights as Peoples of the Forest.

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