Conservation news

Indigenous tribes end occupation of Belo Monte

Belo Monte location. Courtesy of Google Earth.

After occupying the construction site of the massive Belo Monte dam for 21 days, some 300 indigenous people have left and gone home. The representatives from nine Amazonian tribes abandoned their occupation after two days of meeting with the dam’s builder, the Norte Energia consortium.

Belo Monte, if completed, will be the world’s third largest dam, but has been opposed by indigenous groups and conservationists for decades. The dam will displace 16,000 people according to the Brazilian government, though critics say the number is more likely 40,000. Rerouting 80 percent of the flow of the Xingu River, the dam will change the freshwater ecosystems on which a number of indigenous tribes and local communities depend and could push several species to extinction.

Despite the end of the occupation, Amazon Watch, an NGO working against the Belo Monte, says negotiations with Norte Energia were anything but satisfactory.

A section of the Xingu River as viewed by Google Earth.

“The talks failed to address the key demands of indigenous peoples relating to access to navigate the river around the dam, loss of fish and livelihoods, land demarcation, health and education programs, among others. During the talks with each ethnic group, Norte Energia offered each community a package of ‘trinkets’ such as TVs, boats, cameras, and computers while refusing to commit to a timetable for meeting the legally required social and environmental conditions,” says Amazon Watch in a press release.

Amazon Watch reports that the occupation was abandoned when it was announced the Xikrin people were leaving.

“Other indigenous groups decided that without the Xikrin warriors, they would end the occupation and seek other avenues of claiming their rights,” the group writes. A third meeting between Norte Energia and the indigenous is scheduled for next week.

The Brazilian government has argued it needs the $11 billion dam for power generation, but its impacts on indigenous people and the environment, including flooding pristine rainforest, have made it among the world’s most controversial hydroelectric projects. Last year, over half a million people worldwide signed a letter protesting the dam.

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