Indigenous Leaders in London to Call for Help Against Threatened Amazon Destruction by Mega-Dams

By 02 March, 2011

Three Amazon indigenous leaders have travelled to London to rally public, press and government support of their communities’ fight against socially and environmentally destructive mega-dams planned for the Amazon basin.

Chief Almir Narayamoga Surui, leader of the Suruí tribe of the Madeira River Basin, Brazil; Ruth Buendia Mestoquiari, President of Central Asháninka of the Ene River, Peru; and Sheyla Yakarepi Juruna, representative of the Juruna tribe of the Xingu River Basin, Brazil, (pictured in main image above with Bianca Jagger) have travelled to Olso, Geneva, Paris and now finally London to highlight the violation of indigenous peoples’ rights their peoples are facing with the planned construction of these Amazon mega-dams that will destroy enormous areas of rainforest and displace thousands of forest-dwelling peoples. The indigenous leaders are here with the support of the Rainforest Foundation UK, in conjunction with other NGOs Amazon Watch and International Rivers, with financial support from Rainforest Concern.

The Brazilian Government’s mega-dam plans in the Xingu, Madeira, and Tapajós river basins including the controversial Belo Monte Dam and the Madeira Dam Complex – both in the Brazilian Amazon – and six dam projects including the Pakitzapango Dam in the Peruvian Amazon, threaten many different indigenous and non-indigenous communities, many of which have been living in these forests for thousands of years. The delegation is hoping to ensure respect for the rights of local populations whose livelihoods depend on these riverine ecosystems, while highlighting alternatives to these projects for meeting Brazil’s and Peru’s energy needs.

Sheyla Yakarepi Juruna, Representative of the Juruna Tribe of the Xingu River Basin, Brazil said: “We are here to show the international community that we are not being heard and that the Brazilian Government is seriously violating our rights. It is also consistently violating its own laws. We need to take the mask off of the Brazilian Government to show what they are really doing to our people and to the Amazon. The Government speaks about sustainable development and human rights. How can this be true when they are forcing these projects of destruction on us? We need to tell the other side of the story.”

Rainforest Foundation Founding Patron Sting has been a long-standing objector to dams in Brazil, and now also Peru, which threaten the Amazon rainforest, also rallying other public, social and cultural figures in the push for indigenous voices to be heard in response to these mega-dams which now extend to Peru.

Sting, founding Patron of the Rainforest Foundation said: “In its voracious appetite for energy, and facing concerted opposition at home for its plans to dam rivers in the Amazon Basin, Brazil is now looking to colonise parts of neighbouring countries for energy production. This does not solve the environmental problems caused by large dams in rainforests nor reduce the impacts on indigenous people – it merely exports them. Peru’s Asháninka people have been granted the legal rights to their land in the Peruvian Amazon, and this should not be arbitrarily overturned by a Brazilian company, in defiance of international law on the rights of indigenous peoples.”

The delegation hopes to encourage European governments to utilise their abilities to influence Brazilian energy policy, but also to place pressure on the European stakeholders and the main financier of these projects – the Brazilian National Development Bank (BNDES) – to refrain or withdraw their support.

Ruth Buendia Mestoquiari, President of Central Asháninka Del Rio Ene, Peru said: “The Brazilian Government is exporting a false development model to my people by pressuring the Peruvian Government to build dams on our lands and using its development bank and its companies to implement these projects that will only bring more poverty, not development. The Brazilian Development Bank is financing projects that are deeply affecting the peace of my community in the central Peruvian jungle. They are not worried that these projects will force my people from their land and end our way of life.”

Chief Almir Narayamoga Surui, Leader of the Suruí Tribe of the Madeira River Basin, Brazil said: “We are here to bring awareness of these serious problems. We bring our worries and our experience of realities on the ground in our communities, such as what is being done on the Madeira River, building dams that jeopardize the survival of isolated indigenous peoples. The government says it is concerned with green and sustainable development and the protection of human rights, but we see that their practice is quite different. I wonder how the Brazilian government feels; how can they promote projects that could force a people to extinction?”

Bianca Jagger, Founding Patron of the Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation, Council of Europe Goodwill Ambassador and patron of the Amazon Charitable Trust said: “The Pakitzapango hydroelectric dam will devastate human lives and biodiversity by submerging and therefore destroying thousands of acres of forests and agricultural land. It is deplorable that the Asháninka people should have to implore and appeal to the better nature of their Government, who have an obligation to protect their human rights and habitat, but who instead continue to violate these fundamental rights. They must be held accountable.”

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