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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I signed the petition
Although I completely support the indigenous tribes of Xingu, it is a blunt lie that the government never consulted the indigenous or local communities regarding this project. The talks about this project has been happening for the last 35 years. As a Brazilian I`m still not formed an opinion about this project, but I know that there is lots of interests in both sides and what really makes me concerned is that there is a lot of interference in the subject from international organizations and that is really not a good thing because I know that the green talk can be the veil for a more sinister goals from the international community, specially now that we realize that the water is the Blue gold of the future and many things are still to be discover or to be patent in nature. That’s why I believe that no matter what the people of Brazil will decide I thing it is better for the rest of the world to focus to save your own forests and waters and leave us to decide on ours .
Liliana, you must be joking. The Amazon belongs to mother Earth, no matter where you live you have the right to fight for it. It is the largest forest in the fucking world. It will be your government that makes the final decision not your people. Wake up!
I agree with Brennan, Liliana. It is time the Brazilian people woke up to what is going on in their own country. Your comments are typical of those in denial and do not help. What will you say to your children and theirs when they ask you what you did to save the Amazon from destruction? When they ask you what happened to the Juruna and Arara? When they ask about all the beautiful birds, animals and fish that have disappeared?
Do you honestly think your government has the interests of its people at heart? It’s all about money Liliana and you need to wake up fast.
The World Bank estimates that forcible “development-induced displacement and resettlement” now affects 10 million people per year. According to the World Bank an estimated 33 million people have been displaced by development projects such as dams, urban development and irrigation canals in India alone.
India is well ahead in this respect. A country with as many as over 3600 large dams within its belt can never be the exceptional case regarding displacement. The number of development induced displacement is higher than the conflict induced displacement in India. According to Bogumil Terminski an estimated more than 10 million people have been displaced by development each year.
Athough the exact number of development-induced displaced people (DIDPs) is difficult to know, estimates are that in the last decade 90–100 million people have been displaced by urban, irrigation and power projects alone, with the number of people displaced by urban development becoming greater than those displaced by large infrastructure projects (such as dams). DIDPs outnumber refugees, with the added problem that their plight is often more concealed.
This is what experts have termed “development-induced displacement.” According to Michael Cernea, a World Bank analyst, the causes of development-induced displacement include water supply (dams, reservoirs, irrigation); urban infrastructure; transportation (roads, highways, canals); energy (mining, power plants, oil exploration and extraction, pipelines); agricultural expansion; parks and forest reserves; and population redistribution schemes.