BRAZILIAN JUDGE SUSPENDS DAM LICENSE, UPHOLDS INDIGENOUS RIGHTS

A man of the Kayabi people. Thanks to a wise and sensible Judge, his way of life has been preserved.
“While the federal government stalls in implementing laws thatprotect the rights of indigenous peoples, it is pressuring us to accept thedams. But we know the compensation they are offering will never substituteplaces that are sacred to us, such as Sete Quedas, that hold the cemeteries ofour ancestors and that should be preserved. Sete Quedas is also the spawning grounds of fish that are animportant source of food. They talk about fish ladders, but where have theseever worked?” he asked.
A federal judge has suspended theconstruction license of the Teles Pires hydroelectric dam in the BrazilianAmazon, saying the permitting process violated the rights of indigenous peopleprotected under the Brazilian Constitution.
In her ruling, Judge Celia Regina OdyBernardes, a federal judge in the state of Mato Grosso, sided with federalpublic prosecutors and public prosecutors from Mato Grosso and the state ofPará who argued the dam would cause “imminent and irreversible damage to thequality of life and cultural heritage of indigenous peoples of the region.”
The dam would flooding a series ofrapids on the Teles Pires River known as Sete Quedas, or Seven Waterfalls, thespawning grounds of fish of great importance to the indigenous residents.
The judge ordered the immediatesuspension of all activities in dam construction, “especially explosions ofboulders in the region of Sete Quedas.”
A recent declaration by indigenouspeoples cited in the lawsuit states, “Sete Quedas is a sacred place, where theMae dos Peixes (Mother of Fish) and other spirits of our ancestors live ~ aplace known as Uel, meaning that it should not be messed with.”
The 1,820 megawatt capacity dam hasbeen under construction since August 2011 on the Teles Pires River, a majortributary of the Tapajos River in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon.
The dam is one of six large hydropowerprojects planned for the Teles Pires River, which forms the border between thestates of Mato Grosso and Pará.
In her decision, Judge Bernardesconcluded that prior to greenlighting dam construction, the federalenvironmental agency IBAMA failed to consult with affected indigenouscommunities, despite serious threats to their “socioeconomic and culturalwell-being.”
She ruled that this constitutes aviolation of the Brazilian Constitution and ILO Convention 169, which Brazilsigned in 2004.
In addition to its importance for thephysical survival of indigenous peoples, Sete Quedas holds tremendous culturalsignificance. The lawsuit argues that the dam construction site is “a sacredarea relevant for the beliefs, customs, traditions, symbolism and spiritualityof indigenous peoples. As a cultural heritage site, it is protected by theBrazilian Constitution and international agreements.”
Other threats to indigenous peoplesprovoked by dam construction, cited in the lawsuit, include conflictsassociated with a massive influx of migrants to the region, land speculation,illegal deforestation, predatory fishing and illegal exploitation of miningresources. The prosecutors argued that, given a delay of almost 20 years in thedemarcation of the Kayabi territory, such threats are even more severe.
Taravy Kayabi, a leader of the Kayabipeople, said, “While the federal government stalls in implementing laws thatprotect the rights of indigenous peoples, it is pressuring us to accept thedams. But we know the compensation they are offering will never substituteplaces that are sacred to us, such as Sete Quedas, that hold the cemeteries ofour ancestors and that should be preserved.”
“Sete Quedas is also the spawninggrounds of fish that are an important source of food. They talk about fishladders, but where have these ever worked? Kayabi asked.
“The government needs to look foralternative ways to generate energy that don’t harm indigenous peoples andtheir territories,” he said.
Civil society groups and leaders of theKayabi community welcomed the news of the the suspension of dam construction,but warned against a possible overturning of Judge Bernardes’ restrainingorder.
Brent Millikan, director of the AmazonProgram at International Rivers, based in California, says he has seen ithappen before.
“What we’ve seen over and over again,in cases such as Belo Monte, is that the President’s office politicallyintervenes in regional federal courts to overturn decisions against violationsof human rights and environmental legislation, using false arguments, such asan impending blackout at the national level if dams aren’t immediatelyconstructed,” he said.
“Of course, this is ludicrous,” saidMillikan. He says indigenous peoples and human rights groups in Brazil andaround the world” are calling on the government of President Dilma Rousseff “tochange course and respect the country’s constitution and rule of law.”
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