Tensions Boil Over at Altamira

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Kayapó dance at the Belo Monte protest

Shock. Despair. I was on the panel discussing the impacts of Belo Monte Dam, when about eight Kayapó Indians incensed at the defense of the project by state company Eletrobrás’ project manager, Paulo Fernando Rezende who had been invited to the encounter, suddenly rushed him. They threw him to the ground about ten feet from me. Chanting and waving machetes, the Kayapó pushed NGO leaders raising their hands and calling for calm out of the way, and in the scuffle, Rezende emerged with a cut on his shoulder. He was treated at the Transamazon Hospital and released later in the evening.

This incident will likely turn a new page in the controversy over the plan for what would be the world’s third largest dam, and meeting organizers, many noticeably shaken, sought to interpret why it happened, and how the landscape of the campaign is likely to change. The Catholic Bishop of the Xingu, Erwin Krautler, said “clearly, I don’t condone violence in any shape or form. But, I think we have to understand that we are at a time when indigenous people in Brazil are at the edge of despair and are angry over the aggressions being suffered by their communities.” Some commented on Rezende’s smug defense of the dam and his attitude of dismissal toward critics of the project, which they felt the Indians took as a lack of respect for their concerns.

The meeting organizing committee issued a statement criticizing the incident, and characterized it as inconsistent with the Gathering’s spirit of democratic debate. They unanimously agreed that the Gathering should continue. With no other government representatives scheduled to speak, no further confrontations are likely to occur. The final two days of the event will focus on proposals and strategies for positive actions on behalf of the environment and communities in the Xingu basin.