As corporations construct hydroelectric dams in the Amazon, one small dam in Mato Grosso, Brazil has generated a large outcry and resistance from the indigenous peoples who live there.
The energy company Aguas da Pedra dynamited what turned out to be a sacred ancestral burial ground for the Arara tribe in order to construct the Dardanelos dam. In response, 11 tribes led by the Arara, Cinta Larga and Rikbaktsa took over the site and held nearly 100 construction workers hostage. They demanded that the construction be halted and that the company pay 10 million reais (5.7 million USD) in compensation for the loss of the burial ground and damage of the Aripuanã river, whose waters have become polluted and fish have almost completely disappeared. If the company did not concede, they would set the dam on fire.
A day after taking the workers hostage, 26 were released in exchange for 5 project engineers and managers. Days later all hostages were released, with a meeting scheduled this week for representatives of the Dardanelos dam and the state’s National Foundation for Indigenous Affairs.
Antonio Carlos Ferreira Aquino, local coordinator of the National Foundation for Indigenous Affairs explained that the money demanded was not for the indigenous peoples’ pockets. “What they want is a sustainable program in the area that will recover the loss they have suffered in this archaeological site.”
Besides losing the burial ground, the Arara and other tribes have been hit hard by the pollution of the Aripuanã river due to construction. According to Survivors International, they have caught almost no fish in the past two years and had to rely on farmed fish brought by the government.
In Mato Grosso alone there are 33 tribes, with an estimated 250,000 people. There are 77 hydroelectric dams planned for upstream of the area, with 5 already in construction.