The Voice of the Xingu People

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Alexandra Teixeira, 2010 Amazon Intern, in Yosemite Guest Blog by Alexandra Teixeira.

Alexandra, a student at Brazil's PUC-Rio, is currently studying at UC Berkeley through an exchange program. She's researching the effects of international development foreign aid and interning at International Rivers for the Amazon campaign, specifically working to help stop Belo Monte Dam.

This 2010 documentary Xingu: Why We Don't Want Belo Monte – produced by the Brazilian NGO FASE with the support of our former Amazon Program Director Glenn Switkes – provides a space for the people of Xingu to voice their indignation against governmental neglect and their opposition to Belo Monte Dam. It is estimated that 14,000 indigenous people, along with many other communities, live along the Xingu River. In an effort to change the pattern of neglect and empower Xingu people, this documentary shows the perspectives of the affected communities whose livelihoods depend on the Xingu River, and denounces the complex and irreversible effects that Belo Monte Dam will cause to as many as 450,000 people. "Xingu: Why We Don't Want Belo Monte" is composed of touching personal histories of local people's relationships with the river and its meaning to their communities.

The Belo Monte project first emerged during the Brazilian military dictatorship at the end of the 1970's. A great mobilization of Brazilian and international civil society groups gathered at the Xingu Indigenous People's Meeting in Altamira and blocked its construction in 1989. However, the destructive mega-project was reshaped, republicized, and the main dam that used to be called Kararaô was renamed Belo Monte. Construction that was labeled as "strategic" during Fernando Henrique Cardoso's presidency has become the most important project of the current president Lula's Growth Acceleration Program (PAC).

There have been 20 years of governmental efforts to push the Belo Monte agenda forward despite civil objections to the numerous social and environmental costs. Still today, affected communities' demands haven't been met. Furthermore, the constitutional right of Brazilian indigenous people to be consulted about any policy that affects their lives and territory was never secured. Àguila Lima Santos, an 11-year-old student, expresses this neglect in her speech when she says: "the government doesn't care about us. If we die, they won't mind." The teacher Rosemary Braga adds that the rights of the people of her community are continually denied by the Brazilian government.

Marijane Lisboa, Rapporteur on human rights for the environment, points out that indigenous groups don't lose just the means to assure their basic needs, but their history. Without their territory, their history loses its meaning; they are intimately connected to the land. Marijane concludes that. "It is more than losing land here to earn land elsewhere, it is an unrecoverable loss."

An indigenous woman named Sheila Juruna also expresses her indignation with Belo Monte claiming that it will change their lives directly and that the construction is a violation of their civil and cultural rights, which are already threatened. "The indigenous people have already lost too much." "There have been 500 years of cultural and social identity lost already" adds the tribal chief, Luis Xipaia.

The end of the documentary leaves us with the simplicity and truth expressed in the lyrics of José Alves song: "If we lose our property, then, what can we do? We will be left with a jug on the head without knowing where to live. This is my home and I don't want to leave because here is where I belong. So, I ask the authorities to give me dignity and value my voice."

The two-part documentary can also be found here.