Indigenous Tribes Occupying Belo Monte Vow to Continue Resisting Amazon Dams

Indigenous peoples demand free, prior and informed consent following failed talks with Brazilian government

Brasilia, Brazil – Deeply frustrated with the Brazilian government's unwavering attitude about building large-scale hydroelectric dams, indigenous protesters refused to leave Brasilia following a high-level meeting this week.

140 people from six indigenous groups from the Xingu, Tapajós and Teles Pires River basins traveled on Tuesday to Brasilia following 17 days of protest at the Belo Monte dam construction site. During their four-hour meeting with representatives of the Brazilian government, including Gilberto Carvalho, President Rousseff's Chief of Staff, indigenous representatives reiterated calls for the suspension of dam survey and construction activities within their territories and insisted on their constitutional right to be consulted prior to any dam project.

In a statement released on Tuesday, the group expressed their indignation with the talks and ongoing commitment to resist dams, "We came to Brasilia to demand the suspension of feasibility studies and the construction of dams on the Xingu, Tapajós, and Teles Pires Rivers. You are not only talking with the Mundurukú people. You are talking with Xipaya, Kayapó, Arara, Tupinambás, and with all the people who are together in this struggle, because this is a major struggle for us all. We did not bring wish lists. We are against dams. We demand the federal government's commitment to consult with us and to guarantee our right to veto projects that destroy us."

While direct interaction with high-level government officials was an important demand of the indigenous people, the meeting represents a failure of the Brazilian government, which has systematically disrespected and disregarded national law. Gilberto Carvalho expressed a willingness to "dialogue" but stated that the government is entirely unwilling to re-evaluate their plans to build dozens of hydroelectric dams across the Amazon. Regarding any prospective future consultations Carvalho is reported to have said, "I'm not going to lie to you. You will have no right to veto."

"The way Dilma Rousseff's government has been treating indigenous peoples and ignoring our constitution is entirely unacceptable," said Maíra Irigaray, Brazil Program Coordinator at Amazon Watch. "Why talk about free, prior and informed consent if affected people have no meaningful say or veto power? A consultation is not a simple formality, it must be taken seriously and respected."

During Tuesday's meeting, an indigenous leader named Saw declared that the government is selling off the forest and putting at grave risk the ancestral knowledge of native people, "Everything is just business now. You (the government) don't talk to anyone. That is not happening only with indigenous peoples – you don't listen to anyone. You do what you want to regardless, and that is not good."

While the indigenous struggle to claim their rights, the Brazilian government is also paying a price for its inflexibility. On May 14th the widely read national newspaper Valor International published an article highlighting how indigenous and non-indigenous protests have delayed the works of Belo Monte by one year already. The article also states that overall project costs were underestimated and now surpass US $15 billion (roughly US $5.5 billion over initial projections). Protests in May cost an estimated US$85 million in cost overruns (assuming Valor International's estimate of US$5 million/day). The government continues to spend money on security for construction sites and meetings like the one that happened yesterday instead of financing sustainable projects that do not harm traditional people and the environment.

"The government is in violation of its constitution and international laws, by not respecting free prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples, nor conducting feasibility or cumulative impact studies prior to moving forward with plans to build mega dams in the Amazon," said Brent Millikan, the Brasilia-based Amazon Program Director for International Rivers. "The government is an outlaw, but trying to paint a picture that indigenous protestors are the outlaws."

The government proposed another meeting in 20 days in Tapajós, but there was no agreement to do so by the end of the meeting. With the belief and clear understanding that consultation is not only a formality, and that indigenous people should have the right to veto projects that impact their lands, communities and way of lives, all the groups in the meeting decided to stay in Brasilia and not leave until this situation has been resolved.

"Our fight has no end. The government needs to respect our rights and our constitution. They don't want to listen to indigenous people but we won't stop until they do," said indigenous leader Cândido Munduruku.

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