Posts Tagged 'threats'

Another Video, YouTube too

A further short has been added to Vimeo, and is embedded below:

This is about the proposed Belo Monte dam, which the Brazilian government is driving through the licensing process with reckless haste.

The Belo Monte dam would be the third largest in the world. As much earth moving would be required to build it as was needed to build the Panama Canal.

Yet the Brazilian government has been trying to railroad the scheme through on a very tight timescale, riding roughshod over the tatters of Brazilian environmental legislation and ignoring the requirements of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which Brazil voted to endorse less than a year ago.

A development of this size, with the potential to reverse much of the progress Brazil has made in the last few years in reducing the rate of deforestation, should be fully discussed, with all its ramifications explored in detail to reach a balanced and reasoned decision about its environmental, social and financial viability before deciding if it should be built or if it should be abandoned forever.

This video includes footage from the demonstration and attempts to highlight the problems the scheme will bring to this so-far well preserved area of the Amazon.

For anyone who has problems viewing the Vimeo embeds, the two videos are available on YouTube here:

Belo Monte

Heart of Brazil

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And Finally, the Heart of Brazil Video

It has taken a long time to get together the resources to edit and produce a video based on the footage we shot during the Heart of Brazil Expedition.

The full length cut is nearing completion and should run to about 35 minutes. The video below is a 4-minute trailer. If you would like to purchase a copy of the full video on DVD, check back in a week or two.

Our thanks go to Andy Fairgrieve for his unstinting efforts and the many, many hours he has put in to directing and editing the video.

We would like to thank Sydney Possuelo, the renowned Brazilian sertanist and expert on ‘uncontacted’ tribes, for the interview. We are also grateful to Gerard and Margi Moss for giving their permission for the inclusion of the Flying Rivers animation – see their site www.riosvoadores.com.br .

This version of the short video is uploaded at high quality and may therefore take some time to download, especially on slower internet connections. A lower quality version will shortly be available on YouTube – watch this space!

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.

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

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.

Hydroelectric Dams: The Indians Unite

In response to the Brazilian government’s stated objective of issuing a license for the construction of the Belo Monte dam in 2009, the Indians of the Xingu have united once again to confront the threat to their lives.

They are planning a large gathering of the tribes, to run from the 19th to the 23rd May. Over a thousand Indians will join with as many local people in the frontier town of Altamira to press the government to refuse permission for the construction of the dam. They will also use the opportunity to voice their objections to other smaller but no less controversial proposals to build hydroelectric plants on the headwaters and tributaries.Small Riverside Community on the Xingu

The Indians will run the gauntlet of gunmen hired by local landowners who stand to see the value of their land shoot up as the area becomes commercialised.

But they will not be prevented from staging a spectacular display of solidarity, resplendent in feathers and warpaint, as they argue their case.

In 1989, after a similar gathering, the government was forced to climb down when the World bank withdrew funding because of the environmental and social problems the dam will cause.

That was at the peak of interest in the environment. The 1989 gathering brought together Brazilian organisations, international charities, and celebrities, including Sting and the late (and much missed) Anita Roddick. Under the watchful gaze of the international media, the gunmen held back.

Altamira, Brazil. Sting with Chief Raoni at the Altamira conference against dams in Brazil.

There were supporters from many other countries. It was a turning point for Brazil, which was emerging from decades of military rule. New Brazilian organisations were forming, and Brazilians were beginning to stand up to the powerful establishment and its nefarious outer fringes, which inhabited the lawless Amazon.

Today, there are many Brazilians active in the fight to prevent the destruction of the Amazon forest. The Indians have organisations of their own, and are better prepared to take on the government. Now they can speak the government’s language, and they understand more of how the Brazilian world which encompasses theirs operates.

Altamira, Brazil. Group of Indian tribesmen with spears and bordunas in a ceremonial dance. Para State.

But it will not be an easy battle. Finance for the dam will come from Brazilian banks, raised on the back of the Government’s Programme of Accelerated Growth. This means that the international money which will be used is one removed from the project, and the ultimate providers of the funding may not know (or care) that their money is being used for a project which has already been condemned as an environmental, social and human disaster.

For more information see our Press Release about the protest meeting.

© Patrick Cunningham