Newsletter n. 264

Mesa mountain range: aggression against Indians and the environment

The denunciations from the federal public prosecution service, Cimi, the Pro-Indian Commission of Sao Paulo and Asflora, an environmentalist entity, of the serious threat against the Ava-Canoeiro Indians and the environment posed by the reservoir of the Mesa Mountain Range Power Plant in the state of Goias were once again confirmed. The building of the plant was widely publicized by the government, economic and political groups, and the media. Denunciations of irregularities in relation to the environment and the Ava-Canoeiro people were not even considered by the President of the Republic and his advisors, who pressured the National Congress to vote in favor of closing the floodgates of the reservoir on an urgent basis.

The area where the Indians live is being invaded by hordes of miners. They occupied 42 km along the Tocantins River, which divides the indigenous area in two halves and became dry after the floodgates were closed. Illegal mining activities were being carried out in the region even before the closing of the floodgates, but now the number of miners increased to an estimated 10-15 thousand.

According to anthropologist Valter Coutinho, from the National Indian Foundation (Funai), the official Indianist agency, the institution intends to buy an area in the region to add it to the traditional indigenous territory, so as to make up for the loss of 3,100 hectares that are being flooded. In Cimi's opinion, the federal government has been omissive of its responsibilities because it has not demarcated the land in question so far and has not taken any measures to make up for the loss of 10% of the area after the closing of the floodgates, and also because it has been postponing actions to protect the indigenous population from the invasion of miners.

The total area being flooded covers 10% of the 38,000-hectare land of the Ava-Canoeiro. There is strong evidence that some members of the Ava-Canoeiro population are living in caves located in the area that is being flooded. One month ago, farmers said they saw Indians from this group in the area. Only six of these Indians have ever been contacted by Funai.

Since the dam began to be built, in 1981, Furnas, the company in charge of building it, has been accused of serious irregularities. Because it affects an indigenous people, the undertaking had to be authorized by the President of the Republic, but Funai was only informed about it in 1985. After the Federal Constitution of 1988 was promulgated, any utilization of water resources and energy-generating works in indigenous lands must be authorized by the National Congress also. However, such authorization was only referred to Congress after the dam was already built, in 1995, and even then due to pressures from the federal public prosecution service.

The riverine populations of the Tocantins river are also being adversely affected by the reservoir, as diseases such as rabies are being disseminated by bats and endemic diseases such as dengue, malaria and yellow fever have been registered among them. The rotting of the river's water after it stopped flowing is causing pollution and killing fish and all kinds of animals typically found the region. All this is happening because of the lack of preventive measures to deal with the environmental impact of the reservoir.

In October of last year, federal judge Marcelo Dolzany suspended the closing of the floodgates because of irregularities in the project. However, chief justice Leite Soares of the Supreme Regional Federal Court of the 1st Region of Brasilia accepted a request made by the state enterprise (Furnas) for the floodgates to be closed on the same day that the National Congress endorsed the decision to close them, on October 15. In that month, Furnas was sued by the office of the attorney general in the states of Goias and Tocantins, and may be prosecuted by the Brazilian Institute for Environment and have its license to operate, which is valid for one year, annulled by Femago (Environment Foundation of the State of Goias).

Brasilia, 12 June 1997
Indianist Missionary Council - Cimi