Brazilian Court Halts Building of Dam on Indian Land

Escondido in Maranhão state, Brazil During a meeting last week at Brazil's Ministry of Justice in BrasÀ­lia, 40 leaders of the four indigenous peoples affected by the Estreito hydroelectric power plant in the Brazilian northeastern state of Maranhão reaffirmed their opposition to the Dam.

They expressed their concern with the impact of the project on their lifestyle and expressed their solidarity by allowing representatives of quilombola (descendants of runaway slaves) and riverine communities to attend the meeting and also voice their concerns.

Because of the negative reaction to the building of the plant, the participants did not even discuss actions to mitigate its impacts. This posture was strengthened after a preliminary decision was issued by a federal court in Imperatriz, in the state of Maranhão, determining that the building of the Estreito power plant was to be suspended because of problems in its environmental licensing process.

The sentence of the judge, which was issued on Friday, came in response to a public civil action filed by the Indianist Missionary Council (Cimi) and by the Association for the Development and Preservation of the Araguaia and Tocantins Rivers (Adeprato) in June 2006.

Migration, violence, changes in the life of rivers flowing to the Tocantins river which cross indigenous lands, enhanced pressure on lands – particularly as a result of the arrival of populations from cities that will be flooded -, and growth of the population of cities located near the project site were some of the issues raised by the indigenous people at the meeting. 

After over six hours of discussions, the National Foundation for Indigenous People (Funai) pledged to support the decision of the Krahô, Apinajá, Krikati and Gavião peoples. However, no concrete actions to ensure this support were discussed during the meeting.

Márcio Meira, the president of Funai who was assigned to the position one month ago, recognized the failures of the institution during the licensing process and pledged to visit the communities. The indigenous people accepted the visit, but made it clear that the actions of public authorities in the region should not be seen as actions in support of the projects.

"Let the visit show that you want the area to be evacuated and the lands to be demarcated, because this is the role of Funai. You don't even have to talk about the dam," Antônio Apinajé said.

During the meeting, the Brazilian Institute for the Environment (Ibama) said that it will appeal against the judicial decision. "The licensing is correct and there is no possibility of canceling the license granted by Ibama for the dam to be built. We will appeal to the courts," the director of the environmental licensing department of Ibama, Luiz Felippe Kunz, said.

The Federal Prosecutor's Office continues to challenge the Environmental Impact Study of the project and wants public discussions on the project to be held.

During the meeting in Brasí­lia, Deborah Duprat, a deputy federal attorney, said that she is preparing other actions and challenged the fact that the project has not taken into account the presence of communities of descendants of runaway slaves (quilombolas) and of riverine populations in the region.

"Only the Environmental Impact Study can determine if the environmental and social impacts of the project are worthwhile in the name of development or progress. Only this study can define the influence of the project, and it must be discussed by the public at large," she said.

Indigenous people, landless rural workers and riverine communities remained camped next to the project until the works were suspended. They then returned to their villages. On April 16, about 500 people blocked the Belém-Brasí­lia highway for 11 hours near the Estreito city, on the border between the states of Maranhão and Tocantins, to protest against the building of the plant.

Besides the protest, the leaders have been disseminating the risks posed by the power plant to the population of the city. They attended a meeting held at the City Council of Estreito and showed videos in squares of the city on the impacts of other dams in nearby cities.

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