Eye on the Amazon

Occupy Belo Monte!

Photo Credit: Ivan Canabrava / Amazon Watch

"Our resistance against this destructive project called Belo Monte remains unshakable. The occupation has sent a clear message to President Dilma Rousseff's administration that the fight for the Xingu is more alive than ever. If the Brazilian government continues to insist on violating our rights, other resistance actions shall come."

As I landed in the tumultuous city of Altamira last Thursday I was greeted with breaking news from my colleagues at the Xingu Alive Forever Movement: The massive Belo Monte work camp and Trans-Amazon highway had been closed in a daring early morning occupation led by a diverse coalition of indigenous peoples, local farmers, fisherfolk, and members of social movements from across Brazil. In a direct action that was unprecedented in its scale and impact, the occupiers paralyzed works on a portion of the monstrous Belo Monte Dam complex, sending a strong signal of resistance to a belligerent federal government determined to bulldoze their river and their rights.

In a collective statement protesters stressed, "In the face of the Brazilian government's intransigence to dialogue and continuing disrespect, we occupied the Belo Monte construction site and blocked the Trans-Amazon highway. We demand a definitive cancellation of the Belo Monte Dam."

Meanwhile, construction of another set of the project's work camps continued at breakneck speed, using a fleet of heavy machinery to carve wide roads through felled and burnt out forests, forcing people from their homes to make way for Belo Monte's strategic installations. Quite the opposite of heeding the call of protesters to immediately halt construction, the project consortium NESA continued its destruction unabated, confident that overwhelming and seemingly impervious political support for Belo Monte – backed by a ruthless security apparatus – would protect their objectives. But the protest occupation laid bare a basic fact: resistance to the dam is growing as fast as its popularity among local communities and the Brazilian public is falling.

Belo Monte's massive road work continues unabated.

When I arrived at the spirited occupation I was struck by a feeling of hope and determination emanating from its diverse participants. A group of ten indigenous ethnicities, including locally affected communities such as the Juruna and Assurini joined by Kayapo warriors from further up the Xingu basin, held assembly alongside local leaders and members of social movements and NGOs under makeshift shelters, singing resistance songs and protests chants. It was clear that this was more than a convincing show of defiance: it was an inspiring and unprecedented show of unity from indigenous peoples and fishermen, two powerful and resilient groups that have the most to lose if Belo Monte is built. Together with a growing front, these groups are now joined in a struggle to defend the Xingu River and their way of life.

The outpouring of support for the protesters from across Brazil and the world demonstrated that such actions truly have the strength and potential to revert the disaster that is Belo Monte. As word got out about the occupation, hundreds of people, including city dwellers from the country's southeast and indigenous nations from the Xingu and elsewhere in the Brazilian Amazon, voiced their desire to join the occupation or support it as possible. While the menace of punitive legal action and brutal police force from surrounding "shock troops" quelled the occupation and its peaceful blockade, the significance of this timely and successful action is undeniable. It is a sign of things to come and a more turbulent time ahead for this polemic project, where those on both sides of this mega-dam will face a time of reckoning.

In their post-occupation statement, protesters made their commitment clear: "Our resistance against this destructive project called Belo Monte remains unshakable. The occupation has sent a clear message to President Dilma Rousseff's administration that the fight for the Xingu is more alive than ever. If the Brazilian government continues to insist on violating our rights, other resistance actions shall come."

Xingu Alive Forever! Xingu Vivo Para Sempre!

Share & Comment

Related Multimedia

Features

Yes, I will donate to protect the Amazon!

"The work you do is vital, and I am happy to support it."
– Charlotte R. A.

DONATE NOW