Arquivo da tag: Tapajós

The end of a People: Amazon dam destroys sacred Munduruku “Heaven” (Mongabay)

5 January 2017 / Sue Branford and Maurício Torres

Brazil dynamited an indigenous sacred site, the equivalent of Christian “Heaven,” to make way for Teles Pires dam; desecration is devastating to Munduruku culture.

The end of a People: Amazon dam destroys sacred Munduruku “Heaven”

  • Four dams are being built on the Teles Pires River — a major tributary of the Tapajós River — to provide Brazil with hydropower, and to possibly be a first step toward constructing an industrial waterway to transport soy and other commodities from Mato Grosso state, in the interior, to the Atlantic coast.
  • Those dams are being built largely without consultation with impacted indigenous people, as required by the International Labor Organization’s Convention 169, an agreement which Brazil signed.
  • A sacred rapid, known as Sete Quedas, the Munduruku “Heaven”, was dynamited in 2013 to build the Teles Pires dam. A cache of sacred artefacts was also seized by the dam construction consortium and the Brazilian state.
  • The Indians see both events as callous attacks on their sacred sites, and say that these desecrations will result in the destruction of the Munduruku as a people — 13,000 Munduruku Indians live in 112 villages, mainly along the upper reaches of the Tapajós River and its tributaries in the heart of the Amazon.

(Leia essa matéria em português no The Intercept Brasil. You can also read Mongabay’s series on the Tapajós Basin in Portuguese at The Intercept Brasil after January 10, 2017)

The Tapajós River Basin lies at the heart of the Amazon, and at the heart of an exploding controversy: whether to build 40+ large dams, a railway, and highways, turning the Basin into a vast industrialized commodities export corridor; or to curb this development impulse and conserve one of the most biologically and culturally rich regions on the planet. 

Those struggling to shape the Basin’s fate hold conflicting opinions, but because the Tapajós is an isolated region, few of these views get aired in the media. Journalist Sue Branford and social scientist Mauricio Torres travelled there recently for Mongabay, and over coming weeks hope to shed some light on the heated debate that will shape the future of the Amazon. 

“It is a time of death. The Munduruku will start dying. They will have accidents. Even simple accidents will lead to death. Lightning will strike and kill an Indian. A branch will fall from a tree and kill an Indian. It’s not chance. It’s all because the government interfered with a sacred site,” says Valmira Krixi Biwūn with authority.

Valmira Krixi Munduruku, as she was baptized, is an indigenous Munduruku woman warrior living in the village of Teles Pires beside the river of the same name on the border between the Brazilian states of Mato Grosso and Pará. A leader and a sage, she speaks with great confidence about a variety of subjects ranging from the old stories of her people, to the plant-based concoctions in which young girls must bathe in order to transform into warriors.

The sacred site she speaks about is a stretch of rapids known as Sete Quedas located on the Teles Pires River. In 2013, the consortium responsible for the construction of a large hydroelectric power station obtained judicial authorization to dynamite the rapids to make way for the Teles Pires dam.

Rapids on the Teles Pires River. The cultural impacts of the destruction of Sete Quedas, a sacred site comparable to the Christian “Heaven” continues to reverberate throughout Munduruku society. Future dams and reservoirs are planned that will likely impact other sacred indigenous sacred sites. Photo by Thais Borges
Rapids on the Teles Pires River. The cultural impacts of the destruction of Sete Quedas, a sacred site comparable to the Christian “Heaven” continue to reverberate throughout Munduruku society. Future dams and reservoirs are planned that will likely impact other sacred indigenous sacred sites. Photo by Thais Borges
The Teles Pires hydroelectric dam under construction. Photo courtesy of Brent Millikan / International Rivers. Photo by Thais Borges
The Teles Pires hydroelectric dam under construction. Photo courtesy of Brent Millikan / International Rivers. Photo by Brent Millikan

In 2013 the companies involved blew up Sete Quedas, and in so doing also destroyed — in the cosmology of the region’s indigenous people — the equivalent of the Christian “Heaven”, the sacred sanctuary inhabited by spirits after death. Known in as Paribixexe, Sete Quedas is a sacred site for all the Munduruku.

Dynamiting Heaven

The destruction of the sacred rapids was a lethal blow for the Indians: “The dynamiting of the sacred site is the end of religion and the end of culture. It is the end of the Munduruku people. When they dynamited the waterfall, they dynamited the Mother of the Fish and the Mother of the Animals we hunt. So these fish and these animals will die. All that we are involved with will die. So this is the end of the Munduruku”, says a mournful indigenous elder, Eurico Krixi Munduruku.

The message Valmira Krixi delivers is equally chilling: “We will come to an end, and our spirits too.” It is double annihilation, in life and in death.

In all, today, more than 13,000 Munduruku Indians live in 112 villages, mainly along the upper reaches of the Tapajós River and its tributaries, including the Teles Pires River. This indigenous group once occupied and completely dominated such an extensive Amazonian region that “in colonial Brazil the whole of the Tapajós River Basin was known by the Europeans as Mundurukânia”, explains Bruna Rocha, a lecturer in archaeology at the Federal University of the West of Pará.

A traditional Munduruku dance. Photo by Thais Borges
A traditional Munduruku dance. Photo by Thais Borges
Valmira Krixi Munduruku: “It is a time of death. The Munduruku will start dying. They will have accidents. Even simple accidents will lead to death.… It’s not chance. It’s all because the government interfered with a sacred site.” Photo by Mauricio Torres
Valmira Krixi Munduruku: “It is a time of death. The Munduruku will start dying. They will have accidents. Even simple accidents will lead to death.… It’s not chance. It’s all because the government interfered with a sacred site.” Photo by Thais Borges

The sudden appearance of rubber-tapping across Amazonia during the second half of the 19th century shattered the power of “Mundurukânia,” and deprived the Munduruku of most of their territory. “They just kept fragments in the lower Tapajós and larger areas in the upper reaches of the river, but even so it was only a fraction of what they occupied in the past”, says Rocha.

Now even these fragments are being seriously impacted by the hydroelectric power stations being built around them. Of the more than 40 dams proposed in the Tapajós Basin, four are already under construction or completed on the Teles Pires River. These dams are all key to a proposed industrial waterway that would transport soy from Mato Grosso state, north along the Teles Pires and Tapajós rivers, then east along the Amazon to the coast for export.

The time before

The 90 families in Teles Pires village, which we visited, love talking about the past, a time, they say, when they could roam at will through their immense territory to hunt and harvest from the forest. In part, these nostalgic recollections are mythical in that, for at least two centuries and probably longer, the people have lived in fixed communities. But they continue to collect many products from the forest — seeds, tree bark, fibers, timber, fruit and more; using the materials to build their houses, to feed themselves, to make spears for hunting, to concoct herbal remedies, and so on.

Their territory ­— the Indigenous Territory of Kayabi, which they share, not always happily, with the Apiaká and Kayabi people — was created in 2004. Bizarrely, the sacred site of Sete Quedas lay just outside its legal limits, an oversight that was to have tragic consequences for the Indians.

Over the centuries, the Munduruku have adapted well to changes in the world around them, changes that intensified after they made contact with white society in the 18th century. On some occasions, the people readily incorporated new technological and social elements into their culture, seizing on their advantages. The British Museum has a “very traditional” Munduruku waistband, probably created in the late 19th century, which utilizes cotton fabric imported from Europe. The Indians clearly realized that cotton fabric was far more resilient than the textiles they made from forest products, and they happily incorporated the cotton into the decorative garment.

Munduruku warriors. A proud indigenous group today numbering 13,000, the Munduuku are making a defiant stand against the Brazilian government’s plan to build dozens of dams on the Tapajós River and its tributaries. Photo by Mauricio Torres
Munduruku warriors. A proud indigenous society, today numbering 13,000, the Munduuku are making a defiant stand against the Brazilian government’s plan to build dozens of dams on the Tapajós River and its tributaries. Photo by Mauricio Torres

Today that custom continues. Almost all young people have mobile phones, and appreciate their usefulness. But at times the Munduruku have found, just as many of us do in our city lives, that modern technology can go wrong, with frustrating results. The Munduruku have, for example, installed an artesian well in Teles Pires village and now have running water in their houses. That advance makes life easier, except when the system breaks down, which is not infrequent. During the four days of our visit, for instance, there was no water, as the pump had quit working.

In similar fashion, their religion has also changed, at least superficially. Franciscan friars have had a mission (Missão Cururu) in the heart of Munduruku territory for over a century, and Catholicism has left its mark. The Munduruku say, for instance, that the creator of the world, the warrior Karosakaybu, fashioned everyone and everything “in his own image”, a direct quote from the Bible.

Even so, the Indians have a strong ethnic identity, which they fiercely protect. When we asked to film them, they said yes, but many insisted on speaking their own language on camera, even though they often could speak Portuguese far better than our translator.

Moreover, their cosmology is rock-solid; every Indian to whom we spoke shared Krixi Biwūn’s belief in the hereafter and the paramount importance of the sacred sites in guaranteeing their life after death. This faith forms the foundation of their cosmology, and is essential to their existence. It is this fundamental belief that has now been blasted — making adaptation almost impossible.

Eurico Krixi Munduruku: “When they dynamited the waterfall, they dynamited the Mother of the Fish and the Mother of the Animals we hunt. So these fish and these animals will die. All that we are involved with will die. So this is the end of the Munduruku.” Photo by Mauricio Torres
Eurico Krixi Munduruku: “When they dynamited the waterfall, they dynamited the Mother of the Fish and the Mother of the Animals we hunt. So these fish and these animals will die. All that we are involved with will die. So this is the end of the Munduruku.” Photo by Mauricio Torres

The dams the people didn’t want

National governments are obliged to directly consult with indigenous groups before launching any project that will affect their wellbeing, according to The International Labor Organization’s Convention 169. Brazil is a signatory of this agreement, so how is it possible that indigenous sacred sites could be demolished on the Teles Pires River to make way for Amazon dams?

The answer is clear-cut, according to Brent Millikan, Amazon Program Director for International Rivers. After the 2011 approval for the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam on the Xingu River — a major Amazon tributary —, the government’s next hydroelectric target in Amazonia was on the Teles Pires River. “Four dams are being simultaneously built [there]. Two are close to indigenous people — the Teles Pires and Sāo Manoel. The São Manoel is 300 meters from the federally demarcated border of an indigenous reserve where the Munduruku, Kayabi and Apiaká live,” Millikan told Mongabay. The sacred site of Sete Quedas, left outside the boundary of the indigenous territory, lay in the way of the São Manoel dam.

Map showing the reservoirs created by the Teles Pires River dams and their encroachment on indigenous lands. Map by Mauricio Torres
Map showing the reservoirs created by the Teles Pires River dams and their encroachment on indigenous lands. Map by Mauricio Torres

Unlike the building of the Belo Monte mega-dam, which was extensively covered by the Brazilian and international press, the Teles Pires “projects were ignored”, Millikan says. “This was due to various factors — their geographic isolation, the fact that they were less ‘grandiose’ than Belo Monte, and that there was very little involvement from civil society groups, who generally help threatened [indigenous] groups.”

Even so, the government carried out a form of consultation with the indigenous population and other local inhabitants. On 6 October 2010, it announced in the official gazette that it had received the environmental impact study for the Teles Pires dam from the environmental agency, Ibama, and that the public had 45 days in which to request an audiência pública (public hearing) in which to raise questions about the dam.

A hearing was, in fact, held on 23 November 2010 in the town of Jacareacanga. Although the event was organised in a very formal way, alien to indigenous culture, contributions from 24 people, almost all indigenous, were permitted. According to the Federal Public Ministry (MPF), an independent body of federal prosecutors within the Brazilian state, every speaker expressed opposition to the dam. Even so, the project went ahead. Over time, the Munduruku became increasingly reluctant to take part in these consultations, saying that their views were simply ignored.

Although the Munduruku were always opposed to the dams, they were ill prepared for the scale of the damage they have suffered.

Cacique Disma Muõ told us: “The government didn’t inform us. The government always spoke of the good things that would happen. They didn’t tell us about the bad things.” When they protested, the Munduruku were told: “The land belongs to the government, not to the Indians. There is no way the Indians can prevent the dams.”

This is, at best, a half-truth. Although indigenous land belongs to the Brazilian state, the indigenous people have the right to the “exclusive” and “perpetual” use of this land, in accordance with the Brazilian Constitution.

Cacique Disma Muõ: “The government didn’t inform us. The government always spoke of the good things that would happen. They didn’t tell us about the bad things.” Photo by Mauricio Torres
Cacique Disma Muõ: “The government didn’t inform us. The government always spoke of the good things that would happen. They didn’t tell us about the bad things.” Photo by Mauricio Torres

Moreover, the ILO’s Convention 169 says that indigenous groups must be consulted if they will suffer an impact, even if the cause of the impact is located beyond their land. Rodrigo Oliveiraan adviser in Santarém to the Federal Public Ministry (MPF) made this clear in an interview with Mongabay: “As it was evident before the dams were licensed that the Munduruku and other communities would be affected, the Brazilian government had the obligation to consult these groups in a full and informed way in accordance with the ILO’s Convention 169.”

The Brazilian government repeatedly claimed that its public hearings amounted to the “full, informed and prior” consultation required by the ILO, but the MPF challenged this assertion. It sued the Brazilian government, and the federal courts on several occasions stopped work on the dam. However, unfortunately for the Munduruku and other local indigenous groups, each time the MPF won in a lower court, the powerful interests of the energy sector — both within government and outside it — had the decision overturned in a higher court.

This was largely possible because the Workers’ Party government (which ruled from 2003-16) had revived a legal instrument known as Suspensão de Segurança (Suspension of Security), which was instituted and widely used by Brazil’s military dictatorship (1964-85). Suspension of Security allows any judicial decision, even when based on sound legal principles, to be reversed in a higher court without further legal argument, using a trump card that simply invokes “national security”, “public order” or the “national economy”.

The Prosecutor Luís de Camões Lima Boaventura told Mongabay: “Figures collected by the MPF show that, just with respect to the hydroelectric dams in the Teles Pires-Tapajós Basin, we were victorious in 80 percent of the actions we took, but all of the rulings in our favor were reversed by suspensions.”

Marcelo Munduruku: “The ethnocide continues, in the way people look at us, the way they want us to be like them, subjugating our organizations, the way they tell us that our religion isn’t worth anything, that theirs is what matters, the way they tell us our behavior is wrong. They are obliterating the identity of the Indian as a human being.” Photo by Thais Borges
Marcelo Munduruku: “The ethnocide continues, in the way people look at us, the way they want us to be like them, subjugating our organizations, the way they tell us that our religion isn’t worth anything, that theirs is what matters, the way they tell us our behavior is wrong. They are obliterating the identity of the Indian as a human being.” Photo by Thais Borges

According to Prosecutor Boaventura, the root of the problem is that the Brazilian authorities have always adopted a colonial mentality towards the Amazon: “I would say that Amazonia hasn’t been seen as a territory to be conquered. Rather, it’s been seen as a territory to be plundered. Predation is the norm.”

Instead of democratically engaging the Munduruku, and debating the various options for the future of the Tapajós region, federal authorities imposed the dams, without discussion. The Teles Pires dam was built in record time — 41 months — and is already operating. According to a recent press interview, the São Manoel dam, due to come on stream in May 2018, is also on course to be completed ahead of schedule.

Almost every week now, local indigenous villages feel another impact from the large construction projects. The Indians say that the building of the São Manoel dam made the river dirty, more silted and turbid. Although their claims may be exaggerated, there seems little doubt that aquatic life will suffer serious, long-term harm. This is serious for a people whose diet largely consists of fish.

In November, crisis came in the form of an oil spill on the river, possibly originating at the dam construction site, an event that deprived some villages of drinking water.

“We will have to pay the price”

The destruction of the sacred Sete Quedas rapids was not the only blow inflicted on the Munduruku by the consortium building the Sao Manoel dam. Workers also withdrew 12 funeral urns and archaeological artefacts from a nearby site, a violation of sacred tradition that has done further spiritual harm. The Munduruku cacique, or leader, Disma Mou, who is also a shaman, explains: “We kept arrows, clubs, ceramics, there, all buried under the ground in urns, all sacred. Many were war trophies, placed there when we were at war, travelling from region to region. Our ancestors chose this place to be sacred and now it is being destroyed by the dam.”

A creek flowing into the Teles Pires River. With the building of more than 40 dams in the region, these small waterways will be drowned, destroying fishing grounds and vastly altering ecosystems. Photo by Thais Borges
A creek flowing into the Teles Pires River. With the building of more than 40 dams in the region, these small waterways will be drowned, destroying fishing grounds and vastly altering ecosystems. Photo by Thais Borges

Francisco Pugliese, an archaeologist from the University of São Paulo, told Mongabay that he had been horrified by the behavior of the National Institute of Historic and Artistic Heritage (Iphan), the body in charge of the protection of archaeological sites. He said that the institute had broken the law by exempting the hydroelectric company from the obligation to work with the Munduruku to determine the best way of protecting their sacred site. Worse, Iphan had decided that, as the urns and other material were discovered outside the boundary of the indigenous reserve, they were the property of the government and should be sent to a museum.

“Imagine what it’s like for a traditional people to see its ancestors taken to a place with which it has no emotional link or even knows”, he said. “It’s within this perverse logic of dispossession that archaeological research takes place, in the context of the implementation of the dam. It exacerbates the process of expropriation and the destruction of the cultural references of the people and it reinforces the process of genocide of the original inhabitants of the Amazon basin”, he concluded. Mongabay requested an interview with Iphan but was not granted one.

The elder Eurico Krixi Munduruku finds it painful to describe what this sacrilege means for the people: “Those urns should never have been touched. And it’s not the white man who will pay for this. It is us, the living Munduruku, who will have to pay, in the form of accidents, in the form of death…. Our ancestors left them there for us to protect. It was our duty and we have failed. And now we, the Munduruku, will have to pay the price.”

The harm done to the Munduruku psyche by these desecrations hit home in the aftermath of a 2012 federal police operation known as Operação Eldorado, during which an Indian was killed. Krixi Biwun, the sister of the dead man, told us of her brother’s restless spirit: “He went to Sete Quedas because, when people die, that is where our ancestors take them so they can live there. But now Sete Quedas is destroyed and he is suffering.”

“The ethnocide continues”

Is there a way forward for the Munduruku people, a way that the perceived blasphemy done by the consortium and federal government can be reversed? Everyone we talked to in the village is certain that, as long as the urns and other artefacts rest outside the sacred site, one catastrophe will follow another; even small wounds will cause death.

But it is not simply a case of returning the urns to the Indians so they can rebury them. “They can’t give the urns back to us”, explains Krixi Biwun. “We can’t touch them. They have to find a way of getting them returned to a sacred place [without us].”

This seems unlikely to happen. The urns are currently held by the Teles Pires company in the town of Alta Floresta, waiting to be taken to a museum at the request of Iphan. Mongabay asked to see the artefacts but our request was turned down.

Munduruku Indians outside the Teles Pires company gate where the Munduruku sacred relics have been stored by the dam construction consortium. Photo by Thais Borges
Munduruku Indians outside the Teles Pires company gate where the Munduruku sacred relics have been stored by the dam construction consortium. Photo by Thais Borges

Even if the holy relics were eventually returned to a sacred place in one of the rapids along the Teles Pires River, that respite is likely to be short-lived. The next step in the opening up of the region to agribusiness and mining is to turn the Teles Pires into an industrial waterway, transforming it with dams, reservoirs, canals and locks. This will mean the destruction of all the river’s rapids, leaving no sacred sites.

The indefatigable MPF has carried on fighting. In December, it won another court victory, with a judge ruling that the license for the installation of the Teles Pires dam — granted by the environmental agency, Ibama — was invalid, given the failure to consult the Indians.

Once again, however, this court order is likely to be reversed by a higher court using the “Suspension of Security” instrument. Indeed, no judicial decision regarding the dams will likely be respected by the government until the case is judged by the Supreme Federal Tribunal, which will probably take decades. In practical terms, what the Tribunal decides will be irrelevant, for the Teles Pires dam is already operational and the São Manoel dam will come on stream later this year.

The Indians are outraged by the lack of respect with which they are being treated. A statement issued jointly by the Munduruku, Kayabi and Apiaká in 2011, and quoted in the book-length report, Ocekadi, asks: “What would the white man say if we built our villages on the top of his buildings, his holy places and his cemeteries?” It is, the Munduruku say, the equivalent of razing St. Peters in Rome to construct a nuclear power plant, or digging up your grandmother’s grave to build a parking lot.

The researcher, Rosamaria Loures, who has been studying the Munduruku’s opposition to the hydroelectric projects, told Mongabay that their experience reveals one of the weaknesses of Brazilian society: “The Nation-State has established a hierarchy of values based on criteria like class, color and ethnic origin. In this categorization, certain groups ‘count less’ and can be simply crushed,” she explains.

A Munduruku Indian, Marcelo, who we spoke to within an indigenous territory near the town of Juara, expressed the same notion in the graphic terms of someone who experiences discrimination every day of his life:

“The ethnocide continues, in the way people look at us, the way they want us to be like them, subjugating our organizations, the way they tell us that our religion isn’t worth anything, that theirs is what matters, the way they tell us our behavior is wrong. They are obliterating the identity of the Indian as a human being.”

 

(Leia essa matéria em português no The Intercept Brasil. You can also read Mongabay’s series on the Tapajós Basin in Portuguese at The Intercept Brasil after January 10, 2017)

The recently built Miritituba soy processing port on the Tapajós River. It was financed and constructed by Brazilian and international commodities traders in anticipation of the approval by the Brazilian Congress of a vast industrial waterway, new paved highways and a railroad. If that construction goes forward, it will cause major deforestation and ecological damage to the Tapajós Basin, while also impoverishing indigenous cultures. Photo by Thais Borges
The recently built Miritituba soy processing port on the Tapajós River. It was financed and constructed by Brazilian and international commodities traders in anticipation of the approval by the Brazilian Congress of a vast industrial waterway, new paved highways and a railroad. If that construction goes forward, it will cause major deforestation and ecological damage to the Tapajós Basin, while also impoverishing indigenous cultures. Photo by Walter Guimarães
Anúncios

Hidrelétrica no rio Tapajós pode extinguir espécies, diz Inpa (UOL)

BBC

29/09/201509h25 

VIDEO

O Tapajós é um dos últimos grandes rios amazônicos sem barragens e a nova fronteira de megaprojetos do governo federal de usinas na Amazônia

Ao menos 40 grandes hidrelétricas estão atualmente em construção ou planejamento na bacia amazônica.

Em fase de licenciamento ambiental, a usina de São Luiz do Tapajós é a maior delas e considerada uma prioridade pelo governo.

A construção da usina foi tema de uma assembleia entre povos indígenas da região, ONGs, ambientalistas e representantes do governo.

A BBC Brasil conversou com Jansen Zuanon, pesquisador titular do Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia (Inpa) presente na reunião, sobre os possíveis impactos desta e outras obras do tipo sobre o meio ambiente.

Sacred Land of Amazonian Munduruku To Be Flooded By Dam (CIP Americas Program)

By   |  24 / August / 2015

Munduruku-2The Munduruku are one of the largest ethnic groups in Brazil with a population of over thirteen thousand. For the last three centuries they have lived in the heart of the Amazon along 850 kilometers the Tapajós river in the eastern region of the state of Pará. This area is also home to the largest gold deposits in the world. The Tapajós is the last of the great Amazonian rivers without a dam but now the Brazilian government has approved plans for the construction of seven large hydroelectric plants on its river basin. These will have serious implications for at least one hundred indigenous settlements.

The main proposed hydroelectric plant, known as the Tapajós Complex, is in Sāo Luis de Tapajós. Constructio is scheduled to begin in 2017, to come online by 2020. It will flood out an area of 722,25 square kilometers, and will be the third largest dam in the country.

Most of the settlements along the river will be adversely affected by the dam, but it is undoubtedly the Sawré Muybu Indigenous Territory that will suffer the most. They will have to abandon their homes as the projected flooding will cover most of the area they consider their territory.

“That is exactly what they want. They want us as far away as possible from here. We are at war to defend our land. They will have to carry our dead bodies out of here,” said Rozeninho Saw in an interview with the Americas Progam.

“The Munduruku have always been known as great warriors,” he noted, recalling the tribe’s history. “In fact, the word ‘Munduruku’ refers to “red ants” because, like them, our ancestors left for battle well organized and attacked en masse.”

The federal government’s plan to expel the Munduruku from their ancestral lands goes against the constitution because the displacement of indigenous people is prohibited under Article 231. Article 231 recognizes the right of indigenous people to live permanently on their traditional territories. In an attempt to make the project legal, the Brazilian government has argued that the territory of the Sawre Muybu has never been officially, and therefore legally, recognized.

The government’s case, and along with it the plans for the hydroelectric project, has come under increased pressure due the disclosure of a seven-year study undertaken by the National Foundation of the Indian (FUNAI) that clearly outlines the historical inhabitancy by the Munduruku people of the territory in question as per the established guidelines of defining ancestral lands and sacred sites. The report, completed in 2013, proves the Munduruku’s claim to the land and establishes boundaries of the Sawre Muybu Indigenous Territory. It remained unpublished by the presidency of FUNAI until it was recently leaked to some media outlets.

The report concludes, “Based on an exhaustive investigation that addressed anthropological, ethnohistoric, cartographic, environmental, and topographic concerns, the working group fully recognizes the traditional character of the Munduruku people in the specified territory.”

Tapajós: Predominantly Indigenous 

While non-indigenous communities are now increasingly populating the Tapajós area, the FUNAI report states that many parts of it still remain exclusively inhabited by indigenous people. Non-indigenous colonization can be traced back to the 19th century when the area absorbed many migrant workers catering to the rubber boom. This influx declined and ultimately stopped with the fall in the price of latex on the world market.

“Those migrants who remained and settled in the area, adapted to the indigenous customs and were assimilated into the community, not the other way round,” the study states. This lack of non-indigenous inhabitants is juxtaposed with the overwhelming presence of the Munduruku, and some other ethnicities predating the European conquest of the Amazon but little is known of their origins or history.”

Today, the region is still bereft of a significant non-indigenous presence. Most of the non-indigenous population is involved in illegal mining and overfishing.

FUNAI, the government body entrusted with establishing and implementing the nation’s indigenous policies, stipulates that there are a total of eleven Munduruku indigenous territories in the state of Pará. Ten of these are located along the margins of the Tapajós, however only two are officially recognized and geographically demarcated. The remaining territories are still undergoing this process of demarcation.

Tierra Madre 

Munduruku-1The Sawré Muybu Indigenous Territory, as defined in report, encompasses an area of 178,173 hectares along 232 kilometers of the river through the municipalities of Itaituba and Trairão in the state of Pará. Where the Tapajós meets the Amazon River, four different tribes have settled (the Praia do Mangue, Praia do Índio, Sawre Apompu and Sawre Juybu). But it is the three main settlements (the Sawre Muybu, Ms Dace Watpu and Karo Muybu), which play a central and vital role for the whole Munduruku ethnic population. “We are a sort of mother ship for all the other settlements,” explains Rozeninho, “because our territory is the largest. The other tribes come here to get food and materials and to find someone to marry.”

The FUNAI report goes on to state that the central area of the Munduruku territory is host to many springs which feed into the Tapajós and which are “the source of habitats ecologically unique to the area in terms of flora and fauna (especially for hunting) and consequently offer the population of the Sawre Muyru an appropriate and vital source for nourishment and provide them with the raw materials needed for their tools and shelter.”

The Sawre Muybu IT also contains many of the Munduruku sacred sites, like the Igarapé Sāo Gonçalo and the Igarapé do Fecho, both of which will completely disappear underwater when, and if, the area is flooded by the dam. The small canal known as the Sāo Gonçalo, narrow but navigable, flows into the Tapajós at the exact location of the Ancient Village of the Munduruku. “This small canal is fundamental to one of the main rituals, known as the Tinguijada, of the Munduruku.   It is also the source of many palm, copal, and patauá trees which attract many species the Munduruku hunt,” the FUNAI report specifies. Likewise, the Igarapé do Fecho, another small canal that flows into the Tapajós, is fundamental to the mythology of the Munduruku as they “believe it is the birthplace of the Tapajós,” adds Rozeninho.

According to a petition filed by the Federal Prosecutor asking the Supreme Court to suspend the license for the project on the grounds of it being a violation of the rights of the Munduruku, it lists the violation of sacred sites relevant to the beliefs, customs, traditions, symbology and spirituality of these indigenous populations, all of which are protected by the constitution, as its main reason.

The territory of Sawre Muybu coincides geographically with the Flora Itaituba II special conservation area. This alone should be grounds to impede it from being flooded. But in January 2012, President Dilma Rousseff ordered the scaling down in size of seven areas of special conservation, one of them being Flora Itaituba II .   As a result, the unprotected area now falls squarely within the boundaries of the Munduruku territories and is now destined to become part of the reservoir formed by the dam. These perimeters were officially reduced and redefined by the government under the Medida Provisional (MP) n. 558/2012 which was formally passed into law n.12.678/2012.

From Tapajós To The World 

The immense Tapajós River is comprised of a series of islands, lakes and lagoons that are rich in fish stock. It is also a major conduit for the transportation of Amazonian produce such as nuts, bacaba, burtiti and copal. Just at the point where the Igarapé do Fecho disgorges into the Tapajós, the main river narrows considerably due to protuberances on both sides of the bank. The bedrock is sheer granite, and large boulders and strong currents make the navigation of large boats almost impossible.

The seven planned hydroelectric projects will raise the water level, converting the river into a succession of reservoirs. This alteration will most certainly facilitate the navigation of the river for larger vessels. Given its strategic position connecting one of Brazil’s largest agricultural production (of soya and maize) with the newly established centers of mineral exploration (of gold and aluminum), traffic along the river will undoubtedly ramp up on a grand scale from the north of Pará, onto the Amazon River, and out towards the Atlantic Ocean.

These hydroelectric plants are thus seen to be a key component to the exploitation of the minerals in the region. “They are fundamental to the functioning of the industry because they will provide them with the electricity necessary to run the mines. “In reality this completely negates the rights of the people who inhabit the region,” Nayana Fernandez, director of the documentary “Indigenas Munduruku: Weaving Resistance” and activist for the indigenous of the region, told CIP Americas.

China: Eletrobrás Furnas, closely tied to the Federal Ministry of Mines and Energy, recently signed a memorandum of cooperation with China Three Gorges International Corporation (CTG) to build the Sāo Luis do Tapajós Hydroelectric Dam. This agreement consolidates the company’s strategy of positioning itself among the largest energy producers in the world.

Minerals For the World 

Munduruku-4The proliferation of gold prospecting and mining is another factor adding to the growing environmental crisis in the Tapajós region. Known to have the largest untapped deposits in the world, gold nevertheless has been mined in the region since the 1950s, the FUNAI report states. “In the 1980s the municipality of Itaituba was the largest gold producer in the world, extracting an estimated ten tons per month,” according to the Office of Mining and the Environment of Itaituba and the Tapajós Association of Gold Producers.

Data provided by the Department of Mineral Production (DNPM) and analyzed in the FUNAI report shows that an official permit for gold mining issued was issued in 2013 to the Miners Association of the Amazon, which guarantees the legitimacy of the licenses on file at the DMPM. No less than 94 of these licenses infringe on the territorial rights of the Sawre Muybu IT.

In 2012 the Institute of Socioeconomic Studies published a report stating that in the decade between 2000 and 2010 exports from the region officially designated the “Legal” Amazon increased much more the exports from other Brazilian regions, namely by 518% versus 366%, or from 5,000 million dollars in 2000 to 26,000 million in 2010.

The state of Pará was itself responsible for 48% (or 12,800 million dollars) of the total value of exports in 2010. The schedule of exports details the predominance of minerals, followed by farming produce, and meat in particular. Three companies – Vale, Alunorte, and Albrás (aluminum and iron ore) – accounted for 78% of the export market value, or 10,000 million dollars, in the state of Pará.

Aluminum mining consumes almost 6% of the energy generated in the Brazil. According to Celio Bermann, “aluminum is sold at a relatively insignificant price on the international market and generates negligible employment figures. The work force employed by the aluminum production industry is 70 times smaller than the work forced generated for the food and drinks industry, and 40 times smaller than that employed by the textile industry.”

In Brazil, transnational companies that control 70% of its distribution and 30% of its production primarily provide for energy. 665 companies consume 30% of the total energy produced by the hydroelectric plants.

Records show that over 2000 hydroelectric dams have been constructed up until the year 2012. Over a million people have been expelled from their homes and land as a result; 70% of them without being indemnified in any way. China, Spain and the United States were the biggest investors in Brazil in 2014. According to the CEPAL, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, Chinese foreign direct investment topped 1,161 million dollars in 2015, mainly due to increased investment in oil, electrical distribution and manufacturing.

Impact

Although work has not yet begun in Tapajós, the Munduruku are already subject to the impact of the project on their lives on a daily basis. “The simple act of not publishing the report specifying the demarcation lines of the Sawre Muybu territory is an important impact of the project on the community. As is the process of self-demarcation of their sacred lands, undertaken by the indigenous communities themselves. They have been forced to go down this route in order to defend the concept of what it means to be Munduruku in light of the fight for the right to remain in the land of their ancestors,” says Nayana Fernandez. She goes on to say that the Munduruku’s prime focus and main weapons in the fight are the experiences of other traditional communities who have already been subject to the myriad effects of the hydroelectric plants in their midst as well as the dire warnings of environmental disaster issued by many studies and reports.

Munduruku-8Hydroelectric dams in other rivers – the River Teles Pires, or the Belo Monte Dam in the Xingu River, for example – are prime examples of the most extreme of consequences.

“In order to build the Teles Pires Dam, construction companies dynamited the waterfalls known as “Sete Quedas (Seven Falls)” which were a sacred site for the Kayabi, the Apiaka, and the Munduruku. They were allowed to commit this ethno historic crime without having had any prior consultation with the local communities, as is required by the Convention No. 169 of the International Labor Organization to which Brazil is signatory,” she asserts.

The landscape will be altered dramatically, as will the behavior and flow of the river and its tributaries. This will, in turn, create social and economic problems, not least through the appropriation and segregation of large spaces to specifically and exclusively designate them for the transport of materials, for the warehousing of produce and for waste management.

FUNAI’s impact report details alterations in the level and direction of the river; the denuding of vegetation and habitats for fauna, specifically in forested areas and in freshwater marshes and wetlands; the severe interference in the migration routes of fish, and the increased endangerment of animal species, among them: manatees, freshwater dolphins, pink porpoises, caimans, Amazonian turtles, amarillos, otters, and lizards unique to the environment. The flooding will furthermore result in the disappearance of the islands, lagoons, and freshwater swamp forests that surround the Tapajós River, and consequently in the disappearance of their unique habitats too.

No Funding For The Recognition of Ancestral Lands? 

In May 2014 the public prosecutor lodged a case in the Federal Court of Itaituba against FUNAI for delaying the demarcation process of the Sawre Muybu Indigenous Territory. The Munduruku met with Maria Augusta Assirati, ex- president of FUNAI, in Brasilia in September of 2014. It was at that meeting that she admitted that the delay in the publication of the report was due to interference from various branches of the government with interests in the hydroelectric project.

The public prosecutor proceeded with his case in the courts insisting on legal territorial demarcation for the Sawre Muybu well into 2015. Eventually the court ruled that FUNAI was legally obliged to continue with the process of certifying and demarking the territory. It was further stipulated that until FUNAI complied, the organization would have to pay a daily fine of 900 US dollars to the Munduruku. FUNAI has appealed the decision but as yet there has been no final ruling.

According to the arguments presented in court by the public prosecutor, FUNAI maintained that priority in the national demarcation process of indigenous lands had been allocated to the indigenous territories of the south and southeast and that there were no available public funds for the same process in the Amazonian region. The prosecutor rejected that argument saying that public funds were utilized for the preparation of the report, therefore they were available.

“It would be a waste of public money if the report were archived after the great investment incurred in its preparation and, above else, the unquestionable violation of the constitutional rights of indigenous people that would result if that were to occur,” said the prosecutor Camoēs Buenaventura.

Guarding Ancestral Territory 

Munduruku-5Munduruku art has as its central motif the figure of the Jabuti, an Amazonian turtle. Legends say the animal’s shrewdness and community spirit helped it defeat its most feared enemies.

“We have to use our own wisdom to quench the attempted extermination of our people. The enemies of the indigenous communities behave like the Great Anaconda who clasps her victims so hard their bones crush before suffocating them. But Jabuti gave us a lesson in how to defeat them,” say the Munduruku in a letter signed collectively.

The Munduruku’s last resort has been to self-demarcate their ancestral lands. The first step taken to recuperate and reclaim the territory as their own was in October of 2014, using as their geographical point of reference the same territorial limits as those outlined in the FUNAI report. Precisely because the federal government did not officially recognize this report, the Munduruku felt compelled to uphold the position articulated in it.

“The self-demarcation of the Sawre Muybu Indigenous Territory is a resistance movement against those developments proposed by the government and foreign multinational companies in the Amazon. These include hydroelectric dams, the exploitation of the forest, and the expansion of the agroindustry.   It also represents the organization of the indigenous people to collectively guard against and protect the rights of the indigenous communities in light of the illegal occupation of their lands and the continued abuse of their natural resources,” their letter continues.

The Munduruku have recently issued a second salvo in the quest to recuperate and reclaim their territory. In July 2015 they wrote, “We have unquestionable evidence of the manmade destruction of our fruit producing trees. We take care of these trees because not only do we eat the fruit, they are the future we will leave to our grandchildren. We can see that there are not many left, almost none on our lands. The fruit provides nourishing juice for our children and all we can see is its decimation. We have always said that the pariwat (the white man) is not aware of any of this. This is why we are engaged in this process of self-demarcation. We do not think as the pariwat who is destroying our trees thinks.”

According to Rozeninho, the Munduruku are convening a general meeting for September 2015 to evaluate the progress of the campaign so far and to discuss what future steps they will take.

Photos by Santiago Navarro F. 

Translation by Isabella Weibrecht  

Sentença confirma: usina no Tapajós só pode ser licenciada após consulta aos povos afetados (Ministério Público Federal no Pará )

JC 5198, 17 de junho de 2015

A consulta foi considerada obrigatória em decisão do Superior Tribunal de Justiça (STJ). Sentença registrada na segunda-feira (15) confirma consulta nos moldes da Convenção 169 da Organização Internacional do Trabalho

A Justiça Federal de Itaituba confirmou em sentença que o governo federal está proibido de licenciar a usina São Luiz do Tapajós sem antes realizar a consulta prévia, livre e informada conforme prevista na Convenção 169 da Organização Internacional do Trabalho, que tem força de lei no Brasil. A sentença, do juiz Ilan Presser, confirma decisões anteriores no mesmo processo, inclusive uma suspensão de segurança do Superior Tribunal de Justiça. Todas determinam que a consulta seja realizada, tanto com povos indígenas quanto com ribeirinhos, antes da emissão de qualquer licença ao empreendimento.
“Não se pode ignorar a assertiva de que a vontade da Convenção 169 da OIT, e do artigo 231 da Constituição é de, a partir do exercício do direito de consulta, seja permitida a preservação e fomento do multiculturalismo; e não a produção de um assimilacionismo e integracionismo, de matriz colonialista, impostos pela vontade da cultura dominante em detrimento dos modos de criar, fazer e viver dos povos indígenas, que corre o grave risco de culminar em um etnocídio”, diz a sentença judicial.

Para a Justiça, já está havendo violação do direito de consulta por parte do estado brasileiro. “Em todo o procedimento de licenciamento ainda não foi observado materialmente o direito de consulta prévia. Ou seja, da leitura dos autos verifica-se que os réus estão suprimindo direitos de minorias, materializados na consulta. Ou, na melhor das hipóteses, estão invertendo, indevidamente, as fases do licenciamento.”

A decisão cita jurisprudência nacional e internacional sobre o direito à consulta e alerta para o risco do Brasil ser condenado na Corte Interamericana de Direitos Humanos, como já ocorreu com Suriname, Paraguai e Equador, por permitirem a instalação de empreendimentos para extração de recursos em terras de populações tradicionais sem a devida consulta prévia.

Durante o processo judicial foram feitas manifestações pelos réus – Eletrobrás, Eletronorte, Aneel e Ibama – que indicam, de acordo com a sentença judicial, falta de conhecimento sobre as comunidades indígenas e tradicionais que habitam a região e serão afetadas pelos empreendimentos. Em suas manifestações, os entes do governo brasileiro tentam sustentar a tese de que não há impacto sobre populações indígenas e tradicionais porque não há terras indígenas demarcadas na área de impacto direto do empreendimento.

“Não se verifica adequada e razoável a alegação de que não existe influência do empreendimento em áreas demarcadas, até porque, como visto acima, existe indicativo de que as terras indígenas Andirá-Marau, Praia do Mangue, Praia do Índio e Pimental, KM 43 e São Luiz do Tapajós serão afetadas, algumas das quais já demarcadas, como a Praia do Índio e Praia do Mangue”, refuta o juiz federal na sentença.

A sentença menciona a situação da terra indígena Sawré Muybu, dos índios Munduruku, que teria parte significativa de seu território alagada pela usina e é objeto de outro processo judicial, em que o governo tenta protelar a demarcação – já em fase avançada – com o objetivo não declarado de facilitar o licenciamento da usina. Os argumentos do governo nos dois processos são complementares e auto-explicativos. No processo sobre a terra indígena, a Fundação Nacional do Índio alega que não há prioridade na demarcação. No processo sobre a usina que vai afetar a terra indígena, é a vez da Eletrobrás e da Aneel alegarem que sem demarcação, não cabe consulta prévia.

“Não resta outra conclusão possível senão a de que é irresponsável e inconstitucional se fazer vistas grossas a um possível e grave fato consumado de destruição sociocultural. Assim como em Vidas Secas, de Graciliano Ramos, a cachorra Baleia sonhava, de forma inatingível, com seus preás, não se pode permitir que os povos indígenas, futuramente, ao recordar de seu passado, sonhem com um presente que já lhes seja impossível desfrutar. Não se podem relegar aos livros de História os elementos socioculturais de grupos só porque possuem modos de criar, fazer e viver diversos da cultura prevalente”, conclui a sentença.

Avaliações ambientais

O Ministério Público Federal, autor da ação sobre a consulta dos povos afetados pela usina São Luiz do Tapajós, também solicitou à Justiça que obrigasse estudos mais amplos sobre os impactos, levando-se em consideração que, apesar do licenciamento ser feito para cada empreendimento, o projeto do governo é para pelo menos cinco barragens no rio Tapajós e os impactos conjuntos ou sinérgicos sobre a bacia hidrográfica deveriam ser melhor avaliados.

Para isso, o MPF pediu a obrigação de fazer dois estudos – Avaliação Ambiental Integrada e Avaliação Ambiental Estratégica, ambos previstos na legislação ambiental brasileira. A sentença obriga o país a realizar um deles e não reconhece a necessidade do segundo. No processo, o governo tentou se esquivar da necessidade das avaliações apresentando o conceito de usina-plataforma, que supostamente seria aplicado no Tapajós.

Na sentença, o juiz considera que falta comprovação suficiente da eficácia desse modelo e que a Avaliação Ambiental Integrada é tanto mais necessária pelo fato das usinas do Tapajós afetarem um mosaico de áreas especialmente protegidas onde se localizam terras indígenas, de comunidades tradicionais e unidades de conservação, seja de uso integral, seja de uso sustentável.

Processo nº 0003883-98.2012.4.01.3902 – Vara Única de Itaituba

Íntegra da Sentença

(Assessoria de Comunicação – Ministério Público Federal no Pará )