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Amazon Indians Attack Official Over Dam Project

Alan Clendenning in Altamira, Brazil
Associated Press
May 21, 2008
 
Painted and feathered Amazon Indians waving machetes and clubs attacked an official of Brazil's national electric company Tuesday during a protest over a proposed hydroelectric dam.

Mobs of Indians from different tribes surrounded Eletrobras engineer Paulo Fernando Rezende minutes after he gave a presentation to a gathering debating the impact of the Belo Monte dam on traditional communities living near this small, remote city in the Amazon region.

Rezende emerged shirtless, with a deep, bloody gash on his shoulder, but said, "I'm OK, I'm OK," as colleagues rushed him to a car.

It was not immediately clear whether Rezende was intentionally slashed or received the cut inadvertently when he was surrounded and pushed to the floor. Police said they were still investigating and no one was in custody.

"Now They Know"

Tensions were running high at the meeting, where about a thousand Kayapo Indians met with activists to protest the proposed dam on the Xingu River. Environmentalists warn that the dam could destroy the traditional fishing grounds of Indians living nearby and displace as many as 15,000 people.

"He's lucky he's still alive," said Partyk Kayapo, who uses his tribe's name as his last. "They want to make a dam, and now they know they shouldn't."

Following the attack, dozens of Kayapo Indians—wearing little more than shorts, shell necklaces, and red face paint—danced with their machetes.

The Brazilian government said the proposed U.S.-$6.7-billion hydroelectric dam on the Xingu River, which flows into the Amazon, will supply Brazil with an estimated 11,000 megawatts of power and is essential to meet growing energy demand.

Rezende, who was the top government official at the conference, said the dam's impact would not be as bad as some environmentalists were making it out to be. He added that Belo Monte was selected from a number of Xingu River dam proposals as being the option that would least affect Indians.

(Related: "Oil Exploration in Amazon Threatens 'Unseen' Tribes" [March 21, 2008].)

"We'll Go to War"

Rezende was booed several times during his presentation, only to be followed by Roquivam Alves da Silva of the Movement of Dam Affected People, who roused the crowd by declaring, "We'll go to war to defend the Xingu if we have to."

Da Silva denied that he incited the attack.

"It's true it happened right after I spoke, but I don't think I caused it," he said. "Tensions were already simmering."

Wilmar Soares, who head's Altamira's association of business owners, said residents were demanding increased security at the weeklong protest, scheduled to end on Friday.

"No one has the right to cut anyone. It was a surprise, but it was preventable," he said.

Rezende was given stitches at a hospital and released. He then made a statement to authorities and left without speaking to reporters.

The attack recalls a similar meeting in 1989 when Indians held a machete to the face of another Eletrobras engineer during protests against a series of proposed hydroelectric dams on the Xingu river. Following that incident, the World Bank canceled loans to Brazil for the dam.


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