Indians Take Dam in Brazil and Threaten to Destroy Equipment

Since 28 February, the Xokleng people, who live in Alto Vale do Itajaí­, in Santa Catarina, have been in control of the Northern Dam (Barragem Norte) and have threatened to destroy its equipment.

They say they will act if the state and federal governments do not fulfill their agreements to compensate the community for the damage caused by the project. These agreements were signed in 1981, 1982 and 1998. 

Three community representatives were in Brasí­lia this week, to have meetings with Funai and the Ministry of National Integration, which has pledged to start compensating the indigenous people, as laid down in the agreements.

The community has stated that it will only leave the dam, once the compensation question has been sorted out.

There have been threats of police interference and the community has said that it will resist any attempt to remove it unless the terms of the agreement are met. The Public Prosecutor’s Office in Blumenau is working to avoid any conflicts.

On the morning of 8 March, two technicians and an indigenous person, who were working on a bridge at the boundary of the indigenous land, were the target of a firearm attack.

There are suspicions that the shots were fired by gunmen working for people who have invaded the indigenous land.

The Northern Dam is part of a group of construction works carried out in the 1970s and 1980s to prevent overflowing of the River Itajaí­, which used to cause floods in cities such as Blumenau.

The dam was built, with Funai’s authorization, within the indigenous land, and occupies a large part of the cultivatable land, especially the flat, fertile land by the banks of the river.

Agreements to compensate the indigenous people for part of the damage caused by the construction work were signed with Funai and the Ministry of National Integration in the 80s, but the terms of these agreements have not fully been complied with.

Occupying the dam was the method used by the indigenous people to pressurize the authorities to sign and comply with the agreements.


The indigenous people report that there is a lot of hunger in their community. According to their press release, this situation has arisen as a result of their not having an environment in which they can survive because they live “surrounded by the dam, businessmen, colonists and Ibama”.

Here they are referring to the businessmen who exploit the wood from the trees, the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (Ibama) Forest Reserve, and the colonists who have occupied the Xokleng lands since the 1930s.

“Nowadays, this people is made up of 403 families, roughly 2,000 individuals, where fewer than 100 families have wage earners, such as: health workers, teachers, retired people and FUNAI staff. The other people depend on luck to live.

‘We are a people that has traditionally been rich, and which is living in poverty, because of the lack of fair policies aimed, not specifically at the Xokleng, but at all the indigenous peoples in Brazil.

“Will we have to leave our lands and add to the numbers of slum-dwellers in the capital cities of our country? This intriguing fact has led us to ask for emergency funds in cash, until fair compensation has been negotiated and consequently our lands have been demarcated”, they say in the press release.

Last week week there was a a National Day of Action against Dams in Brazil as part of the International Day of Action Against Dams, on 14 March.

The Movement of those Affected by Dams (MAB) is occupying dams in Rondônia and Bahia. They also occupied the construction work of part of the Tucuruí­ Hydroelectric Plant, in Pará, more than 20 days ago, in spite of pressure from the army, which is in the region. 

Two-thirds of the energy generated by Tucuruí­ is used to power four aluminum industries, belonging to American and Canadian multinationals, installed in Pará and Maranhão.

The 20,000 affected people who live on the islands and on the banks of the lake, have not only not received any compensation for the damage caused but also do not have electric power.

In Campos Novos, Santa Catarina, five of the Movement’s leaders were arbitrarily arrested earlier this month. “This is a legitimate case of political imprisonment which was triggered by the Judge Adriana Lisboa, from Campos Novos, without their even being any suits against the peasants”, said Leandro Scalabrin, the MAB attorney.

Agrarian Reform

The National Forum for Agrarian Reform and Justice in the Countryside, which brings together 45 organizations involved in the fight for land in Brazil, and is worried about the escalating violence against workers in the countryside, has decided to unleash a Domestic and International Campaign to sensitize society and pressurize the Brazilian federal government and legislative authorities.

The Campaign, which bears the name “Agrarian Reform: environmental sustainability and human rights”, aims to apply pressure to the government so that it meets its agrarian reform targets (National Agrarian Reform Plan), by introducing sustainable development projects, stimulating agroecology, family and peasant farming and setting up extractive reserves, as well as protecting threatened rural workers, leaders and Defenders of Human Rights, together with a thorough investigation into these threats and exemplary punishment for their authors.

In the Forum’s view, the conflicts that led to the death of Sister Dorothy Stang and seven other rural workers in 2005, “are part of a historic struggle and the introduction of agrarian reform actions – especially the Sustainable Development Projects -, which have caused confrontations between the two development models in the region [the state of Pará].

One of these is represented by the large estates (resulting from the seizing of public land, environmental destruction, illegal exploitation of wood and the use of slave-labor), dressed up as the “modernization” of farming and cattle raising, and the other is a project which strives for social justice, environmental sustainability and respect for human rights”.

“The expansion of this predatory model is unjust and is taking place to the detriment of a national agrarian reform policy (a real redistribution of land capable of altering the current unfair land concentration), of environmental monitoring and inspection and the consequent punishing of those responsible, and the real furthering of human rights (civil, political, economic, social, cultural environmental rights)”, states the text used to publicize the campaign.

The Campaign involves people’s organizations, solidarity networks, NGOs, pastorals, churches, trades union movements, the International Farmers Movement, personalities, and domestic and international human rights organizations.

Cimi – Indianist Missionary Council


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