Indigenous Protests and Unity in Brasília

The fight for the Amazon has just begun

Indigenous delegation from the Tapajós and Xingu, soon after their arrival in Brasília. Photo credit: Brent Millikan

Peace and Respect
in the Amazon!

Urge President Dilma to find a peaceful solution to the Belo Monte conflict and respect indigenous rights!

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In the late morning of June 4th, two air force planes descended upon the capital city of Brasília, carrying aboard an unusual group of passengers: over 140 indigenous people, mainly members of the Munduruku tribe from the Tapajós River – including leaders, warriors, women and children – along with a small number of representatives of Xingu tribes – Xikrin, Arara, Kayapó. For the indigenous delegation, the purpose of the trip, negotiated during the latest occupation of the Belo Monte Dam site, was to meet with Minister Gilberto Carvalho, General Secretary of the President’s Office, to discuss their demands for consultations and consent regarding a series of mega-dams on the Tapajós, Teles Pires and Xingu rivers, planned and, in some cases, under (illegal) construction.

During a four-hour meeting held the same day, the Munduruku voiced their concerns and outrage over threats posed by the federal government's ambitious dam-building spree in the Xingu and Tapajós basins, authorized without any process of free, prior and informed consultations and consent, as mandated by the Brazilian Constitution and international agreements such as ILO Convention 169. At the end of the meeting, the main proposal put forward by Minister Carvalho was to organize another meeting in a Munduruku village after a period of 30 days. As Carvalho left the meeting, he stated unequivocally to a group of reporters that while open to dialogue with indigenous peoples, the "government is not going to give up on its projects." Interestingly, the Minister was referring to proposed mega-dams such as São Luiz do Tapajós whose environmental impact and economic viability studies have yet to be finalized and approved.

"What the government wants, we do not want. They want to say that they will build dams on our land and then see what we want in return. And we do not want anything in return. We want our river free and our nature preserved" stated indigenous leader Valdenir Mundurukú. "The Minister says he wants to consult with indigenous peoples, but that the government's decision to build the dams has already been made. What kind of consultation is that?"

Carvalho's advisors attempted to convince the indigenous delegation to return home to the state of Pará the following morning, arguing that this was part of the agreement around their trip to Brasília and that planes were awaiting them at a nearby air force base. Munduruku and Xingu leaders responded that there had been no such agreement, and they did not intend to return to their villages without concrete results from their time in Brasília.

The next morning, the Munduruku and Xingu representatives assembled in the Praça dos Três Poderes, adjacent to the Presidential Palace, Brazilian Congress and Supreme Court. There, they were greeted by leaders of the Terena people, who had traveled to Brasília to demand the demarcation of their lands and a full investigation into the killing of Osiel Gabriel, a Terena killed by the federal police in a land conflict involving ranchers in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul. As the Terena leaders departed for a meeting with the Minister of Justice, the Munduruku and Xingu representatives proceeded in the direction of the Presidential Palace with the goal of delivering a letter to President Dilma Rousseff that included a request for a meeting. However, a large security force assembled a barricade, physically preventing the indigenous people from reaching the entrance to the palace. The letter to Dilma was never delivered. The delegation then walked to the main entrance of the Brazilian Congress where they personally delivered a letter to Representative Padre Ton, chairman of a congressional caucus in support of indigenous peoples.

Following the decision to extend their stay in Brasília, the indigenous delegation was informed by Minister Carvalho's staff that his office would not provide additional lodging, food or transportation in Brasília. As a result, the delegation moved to a compound on the outskirts of Brasília operated by CIMI, one of the progressive arms of the Catholic Church that supports indigenous peoples. After a few days, they needed to find another place to stay because the CIMI compound was already reserved for a large event. The new President of FUNAI (the government organization tasked with indigenous affairs), Maria Augusta Assirati, told CIMI and the indigenous delegation that her agency would resolve the problem. When a solution failed to materialize, the Munduruku and Xingu representatives decided to occupy FUNAI headquarters in the center of Brasília.

The Munduruku and their Xingu allies subsequently staged an impressive protest at the entrance of the Ministry of Mines and Energy – de-facto headquarters of the Brazilian dam industry – that included singing and dancing. The delegation formally requested meetings with Joaquim Barbosa and Felix Fischer, chief justices of the Federal Supreme Court (STF) and Superior Court of Justice (STJ), respectively, to discuss outstanding lawsuits regarding lack of prior consultations in the cases of Belo Monte and the Tapajos dams. Neither request was granted.

On June 12th, Brazil's most well-known indigenous leader,Chief Raoni, traveled to Brasília to show solidarity with the Mundurukú, one of the main outcomes of a meeting just organized among the Kayapó of the Xingu Basin. In the past, the Kayapó and Mundurukú occasionally engaged in conflicts, which made Chief Raoni’s presence an even more historic event, uniting communites with a common goal of defending their territories and rights against destructive dam projects.

Throughout their stay in Brasilia, the Munduruku and Xingu representatives insisted that the government honor the issue of consent: i.e. that the federal government should listen to indigenous peoples and respect their decision. This is precisely what the administrations of Lula and Dilma Rousseff have not done, blatantly flouting the Brazilian Constitution and international agreements regarding indigenous peoples' rights while intervening in federal courts to ensure the rule of law is not upheld.

Last Thursday, the Munduruku and representatives from the Xingu returned to the state of Pará after nine days in Brasilia, vowing to continue the struggle. "Our fight has just begun. We're returning to our communities where we will strengthen ourselves and create alliances with other indigenous peoples so that, together, we can fight this desrespect of the federal government for our culture, our beliefs and our rights" stated Valdenir Mundurukú, shortly before the group embarked on air force planes for the long voyage home.

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