Brazil: dam protesters arrested

The Movement of People Harmed by Dams (MAB) and the local branch of VĂ­a Campesina (“Campesino Way”) held a vigil the evening of May 7 at the Mártires de Abril Plaza in BelĂ©m, capital of the northern Brazilian state of Pará, to demand the release of 18 people arrested on April 26 when the state’s militarized police broke up a sit-in near the TucuruĂ­ dam. The prisoners each face at least 11 charges; if convicted they could be sentenced to 35 years in prison.

The vigil, which was supported by the Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST), campesino unions and the regional fishers’ movement, was part of what organizers called the “Campaign Against the Criminalization of Social Movements.” The Pastoral Land Commission (CPT) of the Catholic Church notes that 17 people have been killed in the TucuruĂ­ region over the past three years in struggles over land use.

Some 350-400 people had set up an encampment on April 24 in a work area for the locks along the Tocantins River at the Tucuruí Hydroelectric Plant, about 380 kilometers southwest of Belém. They were protesting violence in the countryside and demanding agricultural resources, infrastructural work and the development of fishing to benefit some 900 families in the area.

On April 25 the protesters called for talks with the state and federal government and the Eletronorte company. But on the morning of April 26 more than 100 state militarized police, including a group of 55 sent from BelĂ©m, moved in on the encampment. “They arrived beating some people,” said Daiane Carlos Hohn of the MAB’s national directorate. Press reports said there was some resistance from protesters armed with homemade bombs and metal and wooden clubs but that no one was seriously injured. (Adital, April 27, May 7; O Globo, Brazil, April 26)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, May 10

See our last posts on Brazil and regional struggles for control of water.