Eye on the Amazon

Honoring River Defenders: Brazil’s Munduruku People

Photo credit: Aaron Elkaim.

In light of last week's damning evidence directly implicating Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and her predecessor Lula da Silva in a kickback scheme that funneled R$45 million (US $12.6 million) from the Belo Monte dam's bloated budget to their campaign coffers, a driving force behind Brazil's dam-building boom has been laid bare: corruption. Aside from looming ethical implications that could cost Rousseff her job, the scandal also reignites the debate as to whether Belo Monte should ever have been built, while revealing what forces lie behind Brazil's plans to dam the Tapajós River.

The revelations also vindicate the Munduruku people's tireless struggle to defend the Tapajós from further disastrous dams. Belo Monte's escalating crisis on the Xingu River provide the Munduruku with renewed impetus to build a united front against their government's corruption-riddled mega-project plans for their ancestral territories. This innovative strategy has paid off, winning them new allies and international recognition. Indeed, their struggle is one of global implications, as Munduruku General Chief Arnaldo Caetano Kabá recently told a packed assembly: "Not only the Munduruku are going to suffer; the whole world is going to suffer. We are defending the Brazilian people."

The stakes are high on the Tapajós. The government's intention to auction the São Luiz do Tapajós mega-dam this year promises to stifle the Brazilian Amazon's last major free-flowing tributary, taking with it the river basin's forests, biodiversity, and communities. While weakened by the latest crisis, the power of dam profiteers and their political cronies remains considerable in the Amazon. The Munduruku's determined defense of their river homeland is perhaps the only thing that stands between an unacceptable business-as-usual scenario and a definitive victory for social and environmental sanity.

Today is the International Day for Rivers and Against Dams. Let us honor the world's river defenders, from Brazil's Munduruku people to the Lenca people of Honduras, whose leader Berta Cáceres fell two weeks ago, assassinated by the ignoble, corrupt forces that drive much of today's global dam-building boom. Let us stand with river defenders whose struggle to preserve the planet's flowing arteries is also our own.

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