The Belo Monte dam is “the project of death”: Sheyla Juruna
By Leila Salazar-Lopez
Earth Island Journal
Q&A with Sheyla Juruna, Indigenous woman warrior from the Brazilian Amazon
If you’ve heard of the Belo Monte Dam and have signed a petition to stop it, you’ve probably seen a picture of Sheyla Juruna, Indigenous woman warrior from the Xingu River Basin of the Brazilian Amazon, who’s spent the last 20 years working to stop this dam from being built on the Xingu River in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon.
Sheyla was recently in the United States on a tour of NY, DC and San Francisco to expose what she calls, “the project of death” and make appeals to activists, concerned citizens, foundations and global leaders to support the struggle to defend the Amazon and our entire planet from unchecked and unsustainable “development” that will decimate Indigenous peoples, the true stewards of the Amazon, unless we stop it and promote alternative development and renewable energy for ourselves and our future generations.
During her visit Sheyla spoke at various public events including the Amazon Watch 15 year anniversary luncheon and an evening presentation at the Earth Island Institute. Before she returned to Brazil, I had a chance to ask some specific questions to better understand what was really happening on the ground in Altamira and what we can really do at this time to show our support.
What is the Belo Monte Dam?
It is a “project of death.” If built, it will be the third largest dam in the world after the Three Gorges dam in China and the Itaipu dam on the Brazil/Paraguay border. It is not just one dam, it is a series of dams that will divert nearly the entire flow of the Xingu River along a 62-mile (100km) stretch, flood more than 100,000 acres of rainforest and local settlements and displace more than 40,000 indigenous and local people. Belo Monte is not just one dam. We know our river. The Xingu will not generate the amount of megawatts they promise. They will need to build 5 dams and many more in the future to reach capacity.
How will your people, the Juruna, be directly affected by the dam?
We have already been affected. We have been fighting this dam since 1989. We stopped it then and we have to keep fighting to stop the dam now. If we don’t, our entire way of life will be lost. My people, the Juruna, and the neighboring Arara, live on the Big Bend of the Xingu. If Belo Monte is built, over 100 km of our river at the Big Bend will be diverted and dried up. The river is our life. We depend on river for fishing, drinking and bathing. The river is our economy. The river is our road. That’s how we navigate. I fear that our river will become a river of concrete and I can’t imagine what our lives will be like. Because of all of this, I’m working to stop this and ensure our voices are heard. The life of Indigenous people and the planet are all important.
Since June, when the Brazilian government issued the final installation license for the dam, what has been happening in Altamira?
Social, environmental and cultural impacts all happening right now. On a daily basis, machines are arriving, forests are being destroyed and people from all across Brazil are arriving in search of work. 90,000 people are expected to arrive. They are arriving to no social services or land available for sale, which is causing conflicts and displacement of local people. Everyday I see farmers crying for being forced off their land. Imagine someone that’s 70 years old and being forced off their land. Where are they supposed to go? How are they supposed to start over? We’re seeing this happening in front of our eyes and don’t know what to do. Due to the social impacts that are happening in front of our eyes, The City of Altamira, previously in favor of the project, has recently come out strongly against the project.
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