Brazil: protesters suspend Belo Monte occupation

On the night of May 9 some 150 mostly indigenous protesters left the construction site which they had occupied for a week at the Belo Monte dam, in Vitória do Xingu municipality in the northern Brazilian state of Pará. (We previously reported 200 occupiers, following our sources.) The decision to end the protest came after Judge Sérgio Wolney Guedes of the Region 1 Federal Regional Court responded to a request from Norte Energia S.A., the consortium in charge of the dam, by ordering the activists to leave and authorizing the use of force by the police. “We went out the same way we entered, peacefully, without causing damage to public property or any type of aggression,” Valdenir Munduruku, a spokesperson for the protesters, told the official Agência Brasil by phone. But he said the activists were unhappy with the court’s decision, “because we think that our rights are being violated.”

The occupiers, who included members of the Munduruku, Juruna, Kayapó, Xipaya, Kuruaya, Asurini, Parakanã and Arara indigenous groups, were demanding respect for indigenous communities’ right to prior consultation on the project; they were also protesting the heavy presence of soldiers and military vehicles in the region. When completed, the dam, the world’s third largest, is expected to flood some 516 square kilometers and displace as many as 50,000 people.

The federal government, dominated by the center-left Workers’ Party (PT), says it’s open to dialogue with the protesters. But officials from the General Secretariat of the Presidency have been trying to shift blame to the protesters for the failure to reach an agreement. The officials complained that at two previous meetings indigenous representatives presented contradictory proposals. An unidentified source in the government told the Cuban wire service Prensa Latina that the indigenous representatives didn’t want economic development in the region because they were involved in illegal gold mining. “[O]ne of the main spokespeople for the occupiers in Belo Monte is the owner of six boats that transport illegal raw material,” the source said. (Prensa Latina, May 7; Veja, Brazil, May 10; AFP, May 10, via La Prensa, Nicaragua)

The government also seems determined to keep the protests from getting media attention. As reported last week, two journalists were removed from the site on May 3 and one was fined as they were trying to cover the occupation. The Journalism in the Americas blog notes that one of the three journalists, Indigenist Missionary Council (CIMI) reporter Ruy Sposati, was harassed in December 2011 while reporting on layoffs at one of the dam’s construction sites. He said that two men in a truck owned by the Military Police called him a “troublemaker,” and that one threatened his life. Police agents located nearby reportedly didn’t intervene when the men tried to take Sposati’s camera equipment. (Journalism in the Americas, December 15, 2011, May 6)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, May 12.