The rock star Sting and Kayapo leader Raoni Metyktire first came together to protest the building of a hydroelectric dam in Brazil in 1989; more than 20 years later they are staging a similar battle.
On Nov. 23, Sting and Metyktire gave a press conference in Sao Paolo, Brazil to once again protest the building of a $17 billion hydroelectric plant along the Xingu River in the northern province of Para. Metyktire’s Kayapo people are among the 24 different indigenous communities that rely on the Xingu; and he along with many other Native leaders have been protesting this project in the last year.
The Belo Monte Dam would be the third largest facility of its kind in the world and would produce 11,000 megawatts of electricity. However, indigenous and allied critics of the plan assert that, as a result of the subsequent flooding, the project would have a severe impact on large tracts of surrounding rainforest and on hundreds of indigenous communities. More than 14,000 indigenous people live along the Xingu and are dependant on it for their livelihoods.
“This is the heart of the Amazon and what happens here affects the whole world,” Sting said at the press conference.
“We need to save this forest; deforestation is the biggest contributor to the development of greenhouse gases. This goes beyond industrial pollution, beyond the use of fossil fuels for transportation or heating.”
In his comments, he said, “there are economic reasons” driving the need for the project and that Brazil needs to resolve the problem without destroying the environment.
“We are looking to Brazil for leadership.”
The musician, who has lent his support to environmental protests all over the world and is a founder of the Rainforest Foundation, also said the indigenous residents of the affected area were upset because the information they received was “inadequate and that their voices were not being heard.”
When asked if official claims that the flooded area would be much smaller than previously described and that steps would be taken to protect indigenous territories, Metyktire said details were not made clear to the indigenous communities.
“The authorities never convened a meeting with us, with our leaders to explain that to us; and to give us prior consultation. If they had done that, we would have understood this better.”
One of the other activists working with the Kayapo, Andrea Leme da Silva of Conservation International, also said the prior consultations with indigenous people were inadequate.
“The local traditional people, such as the indigenous and river communities, did not know of the true impact of this project.
“I believe we will pay a very high price in terms of the environment and the society at large.” Da Silva, who is the director of CI’s Indigenous and Traditional Peoples Program, said scientists had already shown that the Xingu River basin had the same amount of fish biodiversity as all of Europe.
“And on the social side, the Xingu is an indigenous river. There are 24 distinct ethnic groups that live there and these groups have their ancestors and their histories that the government has not considered.”
The Kayapo are the largest of the affected indigenous communities and, according to information provided by CI, “the Kayapo nation controls, legally and physically, a continuous block of the Amazonian forest totaling 28.4 million acres – roughly the size of Ohio and by far the planet’s largest block of tropical forest protected by a single indigenous group. They live much as their ancestors did, practicing sustainable use of wildlife, with an egalitarian social structure and decision making by consensus.”
The day after the Sao Paolo press conference the Brazilian government announced it would delay accepting bids for the construction of the Belo Monte Dam until January, as it had not acquired all of the environmental licenses needed to proceed.
While no other information about the Belo Monte Dam has been published since the November event, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva announced Dec. 24, “the creation of nine new indigenous areas that would cover 19,000 square miles.” These areas would be located west of the Xingu River basin and included territory occupied by isolated peoples.