The Monstrous Belo Monte Dam
After a few days in Altamira strategizing and planning, we headed off down the Big Bend of the Xingu, to talk to riverine dwellers and indigenous people about the Belo Monte Dam and to see a bit of this mighty river threatened with destruction. Nothing could prepare me for the sight of the Xingu's Big Bend. A massive torrent of water, as great as anything I've ever seen before, flowed as far as the eye could see. Dotted with rainforest islands, inlets and gullies, the river looked more like a fjord than a river.
Our first stop was an indigenous village called Arara do Maias. A village leader, José Carlos Arara, led us into his house, where a picture of him with President Lula was prominently displayed. Arara says the picture was taken last year when Lula met a delegation from the Xingu and promised "not to shove Belo Monte down anyone's throat." Yet according to Arara, shoving Belo Monte down the throats of the indigenous people of the area is exactly what Lula is doing. "FUNAI (the government indigenous people's agency) never consulted us about the dam," says Arara. "They held a meeting with us and we told FUNAI that indigenous people would only accept this project if we were given a clear idea of the project and how it would affect us. FUNAI claimed that this meeting was a consultation, yet we still lack clear information about the project and its impacts."
Arara talked about the importance of the river for their people: providing food, water, and a means of transportation, and how difficult it would be to remain in the area if the river dried up. "I would like to say to the Brazilian government, open your eyes because you're blind! We're indigenous people and we have rights, there are laws to protect our rights, but they're not being implemented. People should understand we're not against development, we're fighting for the rights of our people to exist."
The next day we visited Dona Delicia's land, a ribeirinho or riverbank dweller, who owns a magical piece of land on the island of Pimental. If the dam is built, she will be forced off the land she has cultivated since 1976, into a new and uncertain life. She has watched her children and grandchildren grow up by the banks of the Xingu, and has turned her rainforest land into a bountiful plantation, with açaí, coconut, cacao, mango and guava trees. Dona Delicia moved to this piece of land with her second husband and children and together they undertook the arduous task of clearing the rainforest. For many years they lived in a little shack in the jungle and battled with nature. But today she earns a good living selling fruit, chickens and ducks, and has two pleasant houses on the land. Says Dona Delicia, "this land is my life, my pleasure, and my livelihood. It's everything to me. I don't know what I will do if they build the dam."
Dona Delicia's story was just one among many of the stories that we heard about the lives that have been built on this magnificent river, and of what will be destroyed if the dam is built.
My trip to the Xingu strengthened my resolve to fight the Belo Monte Dam and all those which are planned to come after it. While I was in Brazil, the government announced that the project would be auctioned to private investors on April 20. Together with indigenous people, Brazilian NGOs and social movements, International Rivers is planning a series of actions in the coming months to stop this project once and for all. To join the struggle, take action today and sign up for our action alerts/news stream list and we'll keep you updated on how you can support the battle for the Xingu, and ultimately, the battle to protect the Amazon, the mightiest river on earth.