Eye on the Amazon

Eye on Brazil: Tensions Escalate on the Tapajós River

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Munduruku Ipereg Ayu Movement

For us everything is sacred: The river, earth, wind, fire, and the forest...when the government says it will do something on our land, it hurts our heart because we are all a part of it.Kabaiwun Kaba

The Brazilian government's decision to dam the Amazon's Tapajós River demonstrates a shocking disregard for the rights of the region's indigenous and traditional peoples. Tensions continue to escalate, with the Mundurukú people carrying out an "auto-demarcation" process of their land – Sawré Muybu – in defiance of the government's intentional deferral of the official demarcation process.

Meanwhile, Brazil's Forestry Service is opening logging concessions on areas slated to be flooded by the São Luiz do Tapajós mega-dam. The MPF has sued to have these concessions paralyzed given that the project blatantly disregards the existence of indigenous and traditional peoples in this territory.

Brazil's systematic violation of the indigenous right to be consulted over development decisions that affect their lands and livelihoods, as enshrined in the Brazilian constitution and International Labor Organization Convention 169, is playing out on the Tapajós much like it did on the Xingu River, where the Belo Monte dam is currently under construction. Having witnessed the disaster befalling the Xingu and its peoples, the Mundurukú are fighting to preserve their riverine home from the same fate. Meanwhile, pressure is mounting to bring massive industrial mining operations onto Mundurukú lands.

This week the Mundurukú released a statement denouncing the logging concessions and the government's ongoing violation of their right to be consulted. Concurrently, the legendary Kayapo Chief Raoni also issued a statement in solidarity with the Munduruku's struggle in defense of the their riverbank homeland on the imperiled Tapajós.

The steadfast and unified resistance of the Mundurukú nation, one of Brazil's most populous, could halt the ruthless march to industrialize the Tapajós basin. This has led the government to mount a brutal intimidation campaign with constant military incursions into Mundurukú territory, purportedly to provide security for teams gathering data needed to approve the Tapajós complex, a series of seven large dams planned for the last major undammed tributary of the Amazon. Official documents show that the complex will flood nearly 800 km2 of forest, including indigenous villages, nearly doubling the direct impacts of the Belo Monte dam.

The people of the Tapajós, Xingu and Teles Pires rivers, among others, are currently experiencing the shocking and wanton destruction of human lives and of natural and cultural resources. This devastation is led by a Brazilian government that is subservient to international capital, ignoring the peoples of the Amazon while striking political alliances between local, national and international elites for the enrichment of a handful of corporate interests. In turn, this situation facilitates the implementation of a program of so-called accelerated economic growth, leaving hunger, misery, violence and low quality of life in its wake.

Denouncement letters and petitions against dams in the Amazon, directed to the authorities with parallel judicial appeals denouncing the illegalities associated with these projects, have in no way been taken into consideration by the government, leaving no other option but direct action.

Against this backdrop, tomorrow a massive mobilization dubbed the "Caravan Against Dams in the Amazon" will depart Santarem by canoe, boat, car and bus and travel to the proposed São Luiz do Tapajós dam site on the upper Tapajós River to demand the halt to dam-building plans. Thursday a series of protest actions at the site are planned with a large contingent of Mundurukú Mundurukú, Brazilian bishops from four Amazonian dioceses (including Dom Erwin Kreutler from the Xingu), members of diverse social movements such as the local Tapajós Alive Movement and Amazon Watch participating. The caravan aims to convene the region's organizations and leaders to unite their voices to shout to the world "Enough! We demand no more destruction in the Amazon!"

Stay tuned for more reports from the field as we travel with the movement…


  • This article in Estadão describes the growing polemic surrounding the Tapajós complex and compares it to the Belo Monte dam.
  • Chief Raoni Metuktire – Statement of Support to the Mundurukú people fighting future power plants on the Tapajós and Teles Pires Rivers.
  • Read a letter from Mundurukú leadership to the Brazilian government and people.

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