Protesters again block construction at Belo Monte

About 200 protesters occupied the main construction site for the giant Belo Monte dam, in Vitória do Xingu municipality in the northern Brazilian state of Pará, on May 2 to demand the immediate suspension of work on the project until the government has respected the indigenous communities’ right to prior consultation on the project. The occupiers—who included members of the Munduruku, Juruna, Kayapó, Xipaya, Kuruaya, Asurini, Parakanã and Arara indigenous groups as well as fishing people and other residents in the area that will be affected by the dam—were also protesting the presence of soldiers and military vehicles in the region. They said they would maintain the occupation and block construction “until the federal government responds to the demands we’ve presented.”

The $13 billion dam, expected to be the world’s third largest, will flood 516 square kilometers, according to opponents, and it has been the target of repeated protests since construction began in March 2012. The most recent was an occupation of another of the four construction sites by 100 or more indigenous people and other residents on March 21 of this year.

According to news reports, a number of the 6,000 construction workers at the main site were supporting the protesters on May 3. Workers on the Belo Monte dam have held several work actions of their own, including an April 5 strike that some 5,000 employees held at the project’s Pimental construction site over working conditions and dismissals. (Conselho Indigenista Missionário, CIMI, May 2; Adital, Brazil, May 2; Prensa Latina, May 3; Reuters, May 4)

On May 3 police agents removed two journalists who were covering the occupation; the police threatened to arrest the journalists if they returned, A third journalist was fined for his involvement. The three journalists were Reuters photographer Lunaé Parracho, Indigenist Missionary Council (CIMI) reporter Ruy Sposati and Radio France Internationale (RFI) correspondent François Cardona. “Why don’t they want journalists here?” protester Valdenir Munduruku asked after the removal, which took place on the United Nations’ World Press Freedom Day. “If anything happens, the responsibility is the government’s,” he added. “From now on, the [indigenous people] are alone, facing the soldiers,” RFI Cardona correspondent wrote after his removal, “[w]ithout anyone to be a witness if the situation degenerates.” Police also kept federal legislative deputy Padre Ton, a Workers’ Party (PT) representative for Rondônia state, from entering the site. (RFI, May 4; Movimiento Xingú Vivo para Siempre website, May 5, May 5)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, May 5.