RIO DE JANEIRO – Brazilian Indians from 14 ethnic groups are threatening violence if the government goes ahead with construction of the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam, which would be Brazil’s second largest.
“We are demanding the government definitively cancel plans for this hydroelectric plant. If it decides to begin work on Belo Monte, the Xingu Indians will respond with ‘warlike actions,’” that federation of Amazon tribes said in a letter sent Tuesday to Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
The authors of the missive said that in its violent defense of its lands “the lives of workers and Indians will be at risk” and that the Brazilian government will be responsible for any casualties.
In an initial act of protest Tuesday, the Indians prevented a ferry from transporting a score of freight trucks along the Xingu River in a jungle area of Mato Grosso state.
The letter, signed by 212 tribal leaders, said the Belo Monte dam will have “irreversible consequences” for the region and violate the “rights of the river’s ancestral peoples.”
The massive, 11,000-megawatt Belo Monte, to be built on the Xingu River, a major Amazon tributary in the northern state of Para, will be the country’s second largest hydrolectric dam after Itaipu, which Brazil jointly operates with Paraguay.
According to the construction plans, the dam will flood a jungle area measuring some 440 square kilometers (170 square miles) and directly or indirectly affect 66 communities and 11 indigenous reserves, flooding homes and displacing tens of thousands of inhabitants.
The government has scheduled an auction for the Belo Monte project for Dec. 21 and estimates that close to 16 billion reais (some $9.1 billion) in investment will be required.
The Belo Monte project was first proposed in the 1970s, but resistance from environmentalists and local Indian tribes prevented it from going forward at that time.
Since then, the project has undergone structural reforms that will reduce the amount of jungle to be flooded and incorporate canal construction to reduce the impact on fish stocks.
In May of last year, a group of machete-wielding Indians wounded an employee of state electricity company Eletrobras during a seminar offered to Xingu communities to explain the dam’s impact.
According to the international organization Survival, the Belo Monte dam will “divert more than 80 percent of the flow of the Xingu River and have a major impact on fish stocks and forests along a 100-kilometer (62-mile) stretch of the river inhabited by indigenous peoples.” EFE