In General Assembly, the Munduruku People Reaffirm Their Right to Be Consulted about Dams

Mundruku General Assembly Photo credit: Amazon Watch

Press release from the Pará State Federal Public Ministry's Office, translated by Diana Oliveira

Last week, the Munduruku people gathered more than 600 people in their General Assembly, in the village of Waro Apompu on the banks of the Cururu River, in the Amazonian municipality of Jacareacanga, southeastern Pará state. They gathered to discuss questions related to health, education, and the hydroelectric projects that the Brazilian federal government seeks to build on lands inhabited by more than 10,000 indigenous people. The Munduruku invited members of the Federal Public Ministry (MPF) to participate in the assembly on the 6th and 7th of April.

The assembly is a Munduruku tradition of political organization, attended by chiefs and captains from all of the region's villages, taking place once or twice a year. In recent years, and as a result of the government's planned hydroelectric projects on the Tapajós River, the Brazilian Constitution, the International Labour Organization's Convention 169 (ILO169), Brazil's environmental licensing process, and the right to free, prior, and informed consultation (FPIC) became topics of intense debate during these meetings.

Among the principal concerns is the violent change to the way of life of all indigenous peoples affected by hydroelectric dams. The Munduruku have born witness to the suffering caused by the Belo Monte dam upon the eight indigenous groups from the middle Xingu River basin, and the drastic alterations to the river, forest, and fish, which are all fundamental elements to the life of Amazonian indigenous peoples. In their assembly, the Munduruku reaffirmed their aim to resist the construction of the São Luiz do Tapajós hydroelectric dam, about which they have never been consulted by the Brazilian government.

"The Constitution recognizes indigenous rights as those pertaining to the land's original people, and therefore these rights belong to indigenous people, and are not given as a favor by the Brazilian state. When Chief Juarez Saw [from the Sawré Muybu indigenous territory, which the government has yet to demarcate and would be directly affected by the São Luiz do Tapajós dam] fights for demarcation, he is not asking for anything. He is demanding compliance with the Federal Constitution. Juarez cannot be evicted from his land; this is guaranteed by the Constitution. [The displacement of indigenous peoples from their land] can only happen in case of a catastrophe, an epidemic or in the interest of national sovereignty. These are very specific conditions and such obligatorily displacement must be temporary, after which the people must be allowed to return," MPF Public Prosecutor Camões Boaventura told the General Assembly.

Again, the Munduruku asked about the consultations that should have been conducted. In January, a delegation of 40 indigenous representatives travelled to Brasília to deliver a protocol, stipulating how they expect to be consulted, to Miguel Rosseto of the Ministry of the General Secretariat of the Presidency. "Prior consultation must be conducted in a culturally appropriate manner. It means that [consultation] must precede any governmental decision [to pursue a project]; it should have been conducted before," explained Boaventura. "There is no point for companies to arrive here with posters and presentations in Portuguese, because this is not a consultation. Consultation is only valid if the people consulted understand the proposal presented."

The Munduruku asked the MPF to translate the [São Luiz do Tapajós] Environmental Impact Report (RIMA) into their language in order for them to understand. The prosecutor committed to put forward a judicial request that mandates the translation of the RIMA. Valdenir Munduruku, from the village of Teles Pires on the Teles Pires River in the Kayabi indigenous territory, was one of the guests.

During the Assembly, he recalled the fight against Belo Monte, in which the Munduruku actively participated. "Many people complained when we occupied Belo Monte, saying that we should not have been there because we live far away from the Xingu," said Valdenir Munduruku. "But it is all related, because we are fighting to defend the Constitution, and not only one river or the other. We, on the Teles Pires, feel in our flesh what a dam means. The [Teles Pires] dams have already reduced our fish. The people go to sleep at night and the river flow is low. When we wake up, the river has suddenly risen 3 meters, sinking all of our canoes. The fish, which sleep in the gapó [aquatic vegetation on the riverside] at night, show up dead in the morning because the river dried out too quickly. Belo Monte's consortium has taken charge of [the national indigenous agency] FUNAI, and [Ministry of Health] SESAI. This was once the government's obligation, but now the government directs people to the consortium," he said.

He asked for support from the Munduruku General Chief and leadership from the Tapajós River to devote more attention to the Teles Pires, where the government has already built four dams and is trying to build a fifth, none of which were preceded by the mandatory prior consultation of affected indigenous people. The MPF has filed lawsuits identifying irregularities surrounding the impacts of the Teles Pires dams on indigenous peoples. Another lawsuit and resulting court order - which was upheld by Brazil's High Court of Justice (STJ) – targets the Sao Luiz do Tapajós dam over the government's obligation to conduct consultations, however until present the court order has not been respected.

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