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Historic indigenous summit calls for halting Brazil's Belo Monte dam
Hundreds converge on the Xingu River in Altamira to highlight threats from mega-infrastructure projects in the Amazon
Altamira, Brazil, Aug 13 2010
Hundreds of indigenous leaders from throughout the Brazilian Amazon Basin joined local riverbank dwellers and dam-affected people this week for the historic Terra Livre Regional Encampment. Bearing the message "Defend the Xingu: Stop Belo Monte," participants occupied the riverside port of Altamira, Pará to discuss threats posed by major infrastructure projects in the Amazon, in particular the controversial Belo Monte Dam on the Xingu River.
Organized by the Coordinating Body of Indigenous Organizations of the Brazilian Amazon - COIAB, and backed by a coalition of Brazilian and international organizations, the Encampment represents a seminal meeting for indigenous resistance to Belo Monte Dam. Hundreds of indigenous leaders from 27 ethnic groups in the Brazilian Amazon converged, joined by local communities, NGOs and leading academics. Participants discussed the harmful impacts of large infrastructure projects on the Amazon's ecologically and culturally sensitive rainforests and the response by indigenous and social movements in the face of such threats.
Choosing to hold the summit in Altamira, a city that would be partially flooded by the planned dam, positions the Belo Monte project and the Brazilian government's Accelerated Growth Program (PAC) as top priorities in the battle for indigenous rights and for a more ecologically sound development path.
Among the indigenous participants at the encampment is the renowned Chief Raoni Metuktire of the Kayapo people, a highly respected leader who has been instrumental in efforts to protect the Xingu River basin for over 30 years. "We must never give up, because we are fighting for a right that is ours!" said Raoni in an address to a gathering of over 500 people. "Nature is life, it has sustained us until today, so we have to defend Nature as our father and mother who give us life….Is this [dam] what we really want, my friends? Let us stand together against Belo Monte!"
Speakers at the gathering presented the myriad problems posed by the planned mega-dam, including catastrophic environmental impacts to the Xingu River Basin and the violation of the rights of local populations. In addition, the project's technical viability has come into question. According to Antonia Melo, a leader and spokesperson for the Xingu Alive Forever Movement, "There are huge design flaws being uncovered in Belo Monte Dam's construction plans, raising further doubts about its economic viability and socio-environmental impacts. For example, engineers are now discovering the absence of sufficient bedrock foundation to support the construction of the main Pimental dam."
The Terra Livre encampment comes at a time of heightening police crackdown on peaceful protests in Altamira, after President Lula's June visit to inaugurate the Belo Monte dam ignited protests given that eight civil action lawsuits against the dam were still pending. Yet despite government intimidation, the encampment has forged on. "This is a critical moment for indigenous peoples from the Amazon Basin to affirm their opposition to Belo Monte, and other projects of its kind that represent an attack on their rights and the destruction of their lands. It is also crucial that we work together with our non-indigenous partners to confront this problem," stated Marcos Apurinã, General Coordinator of COIAB.
The four-day meeting featured presentations by indigenous and grassroots leaders, experts, as well as human rights and environmental lawyers. At a press conference today at 14:00 in the São Sebastião room in the Altamira Cathedral, participants will present a declaration voicing their unified opposition to the Belo Monte dam and call for global solidarity in fighting this mega-dam as well as other similar projects in the Amazon. The event will be followed by a public rally in Altamira that will depart from the Altamira Cathedral at 15:30.
The declaration from this gathering will be brought to the National Terra Livre Encampment being held at Campo Grande, in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, from August 16-20, 2010.
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