Brazil: protesters briefly reoccupy Belo Monte dam

In the early morning of March 21 some 150 indigenous people and other local residents occupied one of the four construction sites at the giant Belo Monte dam now being built on the Xingu River in the northern Brazilian state of Pará. The action, which brought construction at the Pimental site to a halt, was carried out by members of the Juruna, Xypaia, Kuruaia and Canela indigenous groups and by non-indigenous riverside dwellers, who mostly support themselves by fishing. The protesters were demanding clarification of the boundaries of their territories and also compensation they said had been promised them by Norte Energía, the consortium of private and state-owned companies in charge of the hydroelectric project.

The controversial Belo Monte dam, to be built at a cost of $13 billion, will be the third-largest in the world, after China’s Three Gorges dam and the Itaipu dam, which is managed by Brazil and Paraguay on the Paraná river. It is expected to flood an area of 500 square kilometers and displace as many as 40,000 people. According to Maira Irigaray, an attorney who works with the Oakland California-based environmental group Amazon Watch and Brazil’s Xingu Alive Forever Movement, the March 21 action was the “fourth or fifth occupation of the site since last June.”

Indigenous protesters from the community of Jericoá say that because of the construction they can no longer fish in the river and no longer have drinkable water, and that the river’s current is now dangerous for their boats. The mostly non-indigenous protesters from the K 45 community charged that Norte Energía assured them that they wouldn’t be removed at the same time that the consortium was telling the indigenous Juruna that the K 45 land belongs to them. Activists noted the potential for a creating a conflict that might break the alliance between the indigenous and non-indigenous protesters.

The construction workers at the Belo Monte dam have their own complaints against Norte Energía; last November buildings were set on fire at three of the construction sites during a wage dispute. The protesters on March 21 said many of the workers expressed support for their action and compared the system of work at the site to a prison. (Adital, Brazil, March 21, from Movimiento Xingú Vivo para Siempre; AFP, March 21 from Terra, Chile, and Global Post)

The protesters ended their occupation the night of March 21 after a group of 12 activists met with Norte Energía officials to discuss their demands. The negotiators scheduled two further meetings, on March 22 and April 3. (, Brazil, March 21;, Brazil, March 22)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 24.