Archive Page 2

Belo Monte Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)

The Brazilian Environment Agency, IBAMA, now has the EIA for the Belo Monte dam project, and parts are beginning to leak out.

Wading through the mix of academic, governmental and industrial jargon, it is easy to lose sight of the real, actual and immediate impacts that this monstrous project will have on the environment and the people of the Xingu.

The sections I have seen so far cover the impact on the area known as the Volta Grande, and on the diversity and populations of fish species. They make depressing reading. Phrases like “The impact will be irreversible, of the highest significance and of a high magnitude. The duration will be permanent, it will affect the entire cycle, the impact will be immediate and will take effect in the short term. The nature of the impact will be negative” occur several times.

My thoughts go back to our time on the river. We navigated the bubbling, crystal waters of the Volta Grande when we visited the Yudja (Juruna) village of Paquissamba. The river was alive with rapids, and fish were plentiful in the healthy waters. Occasionally, local people, both Indians and settlers, would pass in their boats with a friendly wave.

All of this will come to an abrupt halt if this project goes forward. The rushing, clean water will be replaced by fetid, stagnant pools and lakes full of mosquito larvae and dying fish. The already difficult-to-navigate channels will dry up and become impassable. The rocky riverbed, stripped of its water, will attract the attention of illegal gold prospectors, adding to the environmental destruction.

People who rely on the fish for their daily food will be forced from the area into the fringes of Altamira, to swell the already crowded and insanitary shanty towns which line the urban waterways. Nobody knows what will happen to the Yudja, or to the Arara settlement on the opposite side of the river. The Xicrin of Bacaja will no longer be able to navigate the river from their villages to the town, making the already long and dangerous journey in search of medical help impossible. Having made the Indians reliant on outside help, the government now plans to cut them off from the outside world.

The most productive land, in the areas beside the rivers which are flooded by rich sediment-laden water each year, will disappear below the water, or be left permanently dry and starved of its annual input of natural fertiliser. The people who farm this land will lose their livelihoods and be forced to migrate.

In terms of biodiversity, the impact could not be greater. The Volta Grande attracts adventurous fishermen from all over the world to pursue the rare game fish to be found there. These, some of them endemic, will be dramatically affected; many are likely to die out completely under the environmental stress of such a sudden and profound change in the local ecology.

My loss will be the chance to visit again a place of wild and unfettered beauty, to battle the rapids and to explore the myriad channels, backwaters and islands. But the loss to the local people and to mankind will be greater, the loss of species and the loss of a vibrant ecosystem, which is one of the few areas of the world where Man has had only a marginal impact.

Millions of tons of concrete will change this place forever. We need to fight this environmental crime with all of the weapons available to us.

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Brazilian Supreme Court Decision – Raposa/Serra do Sol

In a landmark decision yesterday, eight of the eleven judges of the Brazilian Supreme Court voted in favour of the demarcation of the Raposa/Serra do Sol Indigenous Reserve respecting the existing boundaries mapped by FUNAI, the government Indian agency, with no votes against.

Disappointingly, one judge asked for more time to consider his decision, putting back the effective date of the judgement until early 2009, and another also decided to delay casting his vote. The third undecided judge was the president of the court, who traditionally only casts his vote last.

However, it seems that all parties now accept that the final decision will mean the removal of large industrial rice farms from Indian land, the expulsion of settlers and an eventual end to the threats and violence the Indians have suffered for thirty years at the hands of invading farmers.

Discussion is now moving towards demands for massive compensation, with the Governor of Roraima State, José Anchieta Júnior, supporting the claims of six large-scale rice farmers, while accepting that there is now no alternative but to accept the ruling.

The delay in making the judgement final means that there will be a period of several months when the 19,000 Indian inhabitants will be at the mercy of the invaders’ frustration. There is a serious danger of renewed violence in the area.

Joênia Batista de Carvalho, a lawyer acting for the Indians who is herself a Wapichana Indian, called for heightened security in the area.

“We are demanding that the authorities and FUNAI immediately reinforce the security in the region to maintain the peace,” she said. “We already know the outcome, and they [the rice farmers] also know that they are going to have to leave the area, so it is essential to increase security to avoid new conflicts.”

The Indians belong to five ethnic groups: Macuxi, Wapichana, Ingarikó, Taurepang and Patamona. They occupy an area of 1.7 million hectares. The rice producers wanted to exclude them from practically all of the fertile areas, leaving them to scratch a living from small patches of less productive land.

The judges brushed aside wild claims by the rice farmers and their supporters that demarcation of the reserve would be handing over control of a sensitive border area to foreign interests, insisting that the police and army would retain the right of access to the area despite the demarcation.

In other areas, the army often maintains good relations with indigenous people, who often benefit from transport and health provided by the army.

The judgement will affect the demarcation of other disputed Indian territories. The government will have to adopt new directives laid down by the court, which affect the process by which the remaining Indian territories which still have not been fully demarcated are handled.

A decision in favour of reducing the legally demarcated area, which would have left the Indians isolated in a series of small ‘islands’ of reserve, could have opened up the possibility of a new wave of challenges to other reserves which have already been demarcated. This is now much less likely, leaving Indians in many parts of Brazil with added security and more confidence in their future.

© Patrick Cunningham

“Amazon” on the BBC with Bruce Parry

Here is a link to the episode of Bruce Parry’s Amazon on BBC iPlayer:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00f4zhy

The whole programme is excellent and thoroughly recommended. There is a section about the Altamira gathering which starts at 25 minutes and runs for less than five minutes. Starting at 36 minutes is a visit to the Kayapo village of Kriny.

It will only be available for the nex four days, so don’t let this opportunity slip by.

Bruce Parry at Altamira

Thank you BBC’s Bruce Parry for putting a link to our site on the BBC’s ‘Amazon’ site.

Bruce was there at the Altamira demonstration in May. Like many of us, he was incredulous at the Brazilian government’s insistence on building the white elephant Belo Monte hydroelectric dam, which will be capable of generating only a trickle of electricity for three months each year, despite being the world’s third largest.

If it is built this dinosaur will come to be seen as a huge error. It will be a mistake of gargantuan proportions which will be irreversible.

The Kayapo are just one of at least seven tribes which will be affected by this scheme. It will bring floods to some village, dry river beds to others, and a disrupted environment and permanent problems in growing, hunting and collecting enough food to eat, for both indigenous people and their rural neighbours.

For a blog from Altamira with pictures, see http://ipcst08.wordpress.com. For stunning pictures of indigenous people and their environment, click on the Photo Galleries on the right.

Brasilia Exhibition in the Press

Folha do Meio Ambiente, Brasilia:

http://www.folhadomeio.com.br/publix/fma/folha/2008/05/xingu188.html

In Portuguese, with a summary in English.

The Heart of Brazil Exhibition in Brasilia

The Heart of Brazil Exhibition opened today at the Memorial of Indigenous People (Memorial dos Povos Indígenas), Praça do Buriti, Brasilia.

For the first time, the images from the Heart of Brazil Expedition will be seen in public in Brazil.

“It is vitally important for me that these images can be seen by the people of Brazil,” said Sue Cunningham, speaking at the official opening yesterday evening.

“I did not mount the exhibition so that people could just look at lovely pictures. I want people to really think about what they are looking at; examples of the strong and vibrant indigenous cultures of the original Brazilians, but cultures and people who are under ever-increasing threats from the alien society which surrounds them.”

The venue is important too. Designed to celebrate the indigenous people of Brazil by Oscar Niemeyer, and based on inspiration from the great Yanomami mallocas, the indigenous people were denied the use of the building for 17 years until 1999. Last year, Marcos Terena became its first indigenous co-ordinator, and the building is at last coming to life as a centre of indigenous culture.

On the Brazilian Day of the Indian, 19th April, a new technology centre was officially opened. Equipped with computers donated by the United Nations, it will bring young Indians into the centre to learn information technology skills.

The exhibition will continue until the 17th July.

Sue and Patrick Cunningham, on behalf of IPCST, would like to take this opportunity to extend our sincere thanks to HSBC, who have generously supported the staging of the exhibition, and to the British Embassy and Ambassador Peter Collecott for their support and encouragement. We also thank Marcos Terena and the many individuals, organisations and companies who have encouraged and supported us to make this exhibition a reality.

We constantly remember the great warmth and openness with which we were received by the 48 indigenous communities we visited during the expedition; they are the stars of the show, and this exhibition is for and about them. We hope that, in its small way, it will help them to support and maintain the rivers and forests of the Xingu basin, for the well-being of Brazil and for the good of the planet.

Encontro Xingu in Altamira

The week beginning 19th May is the week that the Indians gather in Altamira. You can follow the events day by day at EncontroXingu.