Defying Brazilian Government, Indigenous Group Proceeds with Demarcation of Amazonian Territory

Munduruku people "auto-demarcate" lands threatened by Tapajós River mega-dams

International Rivers, Amazon Watch

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Members of the Munduruku, Brazil. Photo Credit: Amazon Watch

Rio de Janeiro – In response to the Dilma Rousseff government's failure to recognize Indigenous rights to lands scheduled for flooding by two mega-dam projects, the Munduruku people have taken the extraordinary measure to demarcate their own territory. Now in its second week, the "auto-demarcation" of the 178,000 hectare Sawré Muybu Indigenous territory represents a direct challenge to the federal government's refusal to comply with legal obligations to demarcate Munduruku lands that would be directly impacted by the highly controversial São Luiz do Tapajós and Jatobá mega-dams, slated for construction on the Tapajós river.

In October 2013, after completing field studies that spanned a period of 12 years, Brazil's Indigenous agency FUNAI completed a technical report confirming the status of Sawre Muybu as the Munduruku people's traditional Indigenous territory. Under intense pressure from the Rousseff administration, FUNAI and the Ministry of Justice have refused to officially publish the report, stalling demarcation. Lacking formal recognition, this Indigenous territory remains highly vulnerable to illegal land grabs, mining and logging.

Last week, in response to a lawsuit filed by the Federal Public Prosecutor's Office (Ministério Público Federal), federal judge Rafael Leite Paulo issued a ruling that requires FUNAI to publish its report within 15 days and determine the final decision on demarcation of the Sawre Muybu territory.

According to a statement issued on Monday by Munduruku leaders, the decision to auto-demarcate their territory is a response to the Rousseff administration's negligence in recognizing their land rights, as well as its determination to construct the two controversial mega-dams. The Munduruku have consistently protested the federal government's repeated attempts to proceed with licensing and construction of the Tapajós dams, while disregarding their right to a process of free, prior, and informed consultation and consent, as mandated by the Brazilian Constitution and international human rights agreements to which Brazil is a signatory.

"The government does not want to demarcate [Sawré Muybu] because it will obstruct the hydroelectric dams that they want to build on our river," affirms the Munduruku statement. "Since the government won't assume its responsibility, we determined to do it ourselves."

"The Munduruku have affirmed that they will only leave the Tapajós dead," asserted Haroldo Espírito Santo of the Indigenist Missionary Council (CIMI). "They've clearly stated that any project that is not attuned to nature will be rejected by their people. They are part of this environment – their auto-demarcation is a way of affirming this fact to the government."

Since early 2012, the Munduruku have contested the federal government's efforts to conduct technical studies for dam projects within Sawre Muybu and other traditional lands. Such resistance has included denying access to their territories and detaining technicians found on their lands. President Rousseff responded by deploying police and military forces to serve as security for teams conducting technical studies for dam construction.

On November 7th, 2012, tensions flared when the Federal Police killed a young Mundukuru leader during a surprise action allegedly aimed at eliminating wildcat mining. This was understood by the Munduruku as an act of intimidation aimed at quashing Indigenous opposition to dams on the Tapajós.

"Be it through neglect or brute force, the Brazilian government aims to crush the Munduruku's resistance to their plans," said Christian Poirier of Amazon Watch. "Yet the Munduruku refuse to be defeated. Their steadfast opposition represents the most serious challenge to the Brazilian government's reckless Amazon dam-building program."

Additional information:

MPF Press release on legal decision regarding demarcation of Sawre Muybu (Portuguese)

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