Conflict Sweeps Indigenous Territory in Brazil
November 13, 2012 | Maíra Irigaray
Belo Monte: Justice Now!
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On the brink of the VIII Forum on Indigenous people and the electric sector, alarming conflicts have swept Brazil. The forum has been called "a farce meant to greenwash the energy sector's impacts on indigenous peoples" and the reality outside conference doors proves Brazilians are facing a unique moment. In three different regions, indigenous peoples from Mato Grosso, Tapajós and the Xingu have found themselves face-to-face with what "development" really means to their culture and lands.
The Guarani Kayowá people represent one of the most numerous indigenous people in the country (46,000 out of approximately 734,000), but they continue to be the target of constant attacks and have seen an alarming rash of suicides throughout their communities. Reports by CIMI (the Indigenous Missionary Council) show that in the last five years there were more than 200 murders and more than 150 suicides; more than 100 children died of malnutrition, about 200 indigenous people were arrested and more than 90% of households were living with a basic food allowance and other government aid.
A few weeks ago the Guarani Kayowá occupied a land that they claim is theirs but the Supreme Court prepared to evict them. The situation changed when threats of massive suicide came up in the international press and gained momentum across social networks and in street protests.
Last week also saw a conflict between the Munduruku from the Tapajós region, ending with an intrusion of the federal police, one indigenous person killed and several others hurt. Many were arrested and handcuffed for more than nine hours. The police claimed to be there to take down an illegal mining set, however it is obvious that behind this lay two huge interests: the Tapajós dam and the Belo Monte dam.
The government wants to conduct studies on Munduruku land for the Tapajós dam while the group strongly resists. Without mining, however, they would need to rely on the government and its plan for development to survive. In the other hand, the Munduruku have been showing strong support for the Xingu people who are resisting the Belo Monte dam, and it seems the police were there to intimidate and instill fear, showing what the government is capable of doing.
Meanwhile in the Xingu region, night workers of the Belo Monte construction site burned the structures on the constructions sites, including offices, food courts, computer labs, houses and other facilities, as well as some buses and machines. The workers are demanding better labor conditions. Hopefully Brazilians will now understand that the Belo Monte dam is not only affecting local people from Xingu, but also thousands of working citizens. This is a clear picture of how development often comes in a completely irresponsible way. Ironically, most of the money for the Belo Monte dam comes from The Brazilian National Development Bank (BNDES), its main source being labor-tax. Workers are basically paying for irresponsible projects to move forward with slave labor conditions.
All of this is a quick glimpse into the dramatic situation that indigenous people are facing in Brazil. As a Brazilian, I realize this is probably not different from many other countries. But when will Brazil learn that this is not the path to sustainable development?
The Munduruku, Guarani Kayowá and the Xingu people all are facing issues related to catastrophic projects on their lands. Now the Supreme Court has in its hands a decision that could change forever the right to prior and informed consultation. By denying this right the law would be changing Brazilian Constitutional law, threating indigenous peoples right to decide what happens on their lands, and in their lives.
We are seeking Justice Now for the people of the Xingu, and for all indigenous people in Brazil. Please join us – sign this petition, and ask for justice now!