May 3, 2013 / 11:32 PM / 7 years ago

Amazon Indians occupy controversial dam to demand a say

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Amazon Indians on Friday refused to end their occupation of a building site that has partially paralyzed work on the world’s third largest hydroelectric dam for two days.

Amazon Indians from the Xingu, Tapajos and Teles Pires river basins invade the main construction site of the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam site in protest against the dam's construction, in Vitoria do Xingu, near Altamira in Para State, May 2, 2013. REUTERS/Lunae Parracho

Some 200 people from various indigenous groups occupied one of three construction sites of the controversial Belo Monte dam on the Xingu River on Thursday, halting work by 3,000 of the 22,000 workers on the project.

They are demanding that the Brazilian government hold prior consultations with indigenous peoples before building dams that affect their lands and livelihoods, an issue that has sparked years of protests against the Belo Monte dam.

The latest protest includes 100 Munduruku Indians from the Tapajos river, the only major river in the Amazon basin with no dams but where the government plans to build a dozen to meet Brazil’s rapidly rising electricity consumption.

The government sent police and soldiers to the Tapajos River earlier this year to guard geologists and biologists whose work surveying the area for a dam was opposed by the Munduruku.

“We indigenous peoples are uniting in the fight against the hydroelectric dams because our problem over there is the same as theirs here,” a leader of the group, Valdemir Munduruku, said by telephone from Belo Monte.

“We are united by the disrespect of the government, the lack of consultations, the destruction of our lands,” he said.

Under Brazil’s constitution, the government must hold public hearings with people affected by its projects and it maintains that consultations were held before Belo Monte was begun.

President Dilma Rousseff’s government offered to send one of her ministers, Gilberto Carvalho, to speak to them on Monday as long as they met in the local town of Altamira, Munduruku said, but the Indians are not budging from the occupied site.

He said members of the local Juruna and Arara indigenous peoples would join their protest on Saturday.

The Belo Monte dam on the Xingu River has a maximum designed capacity of 11,233 megawatts, equivalent to about 10 percent of Brazil’s current generating capacity.

The dam, which will cost nearly $14 billion, would be the third biggest in the world, after China’s Three Gorges facility and the Itaipu dam on the border between Brazil and Paraguay.

The government considers the dam essential for Brazil to meet the power needs of an expanding economy and for limiting the need for fossil fuels such as oil, natural gas and coal.

A spokesman for the consortium building Belo Monte, which includes Brazil’s largest construction firms, said the number of protests have increased this year at the dam.

But he said the brief disruptions have not upset work plans and the first of Belo Monte’s 24 turbines is still scheduled to start up in February 2015 with the rest following through 2019.

Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Sandra Maler

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