Newsletter n.º 617


Eight indigenous peoples of the Rio Branco land in the region of Alta Floresta D´Oeste, state of Rondônia, are facing big problems created by the so-called Small Hydroelectric Power Plants (PCH) built along the Branco river. The power plants have reduced the water level in the rivers, making it difficult for them to move about in them on their boats during the summer and causing the fish and the forests along the rivers to disappear.

The first plant of the seven which make up the hydroelectric system of the Branco river was built in 1993 by the Cassol group, which belongs to the family of the state governor, Ivo Cassol (PSDB – Party of the Brazilian Social Democracy). The Santa Luzia power plant affected the Vermelho river, a tributary of the Branco river. The Cassol group built five small power plants.

The most recent project of the Cassol group is being implemented in the Figueira river, the main tributary of the Branco river, which is about to have its regular course changed to feed a power plant. According to indigenous leaders, in the earth moving, filling in, and leveling operations carried out to build this power plant "the cemetery of our people was destroyed, bones were removed, and pots were broken by the tractors." 

In April of this year, indigenous leaders sent a document to the Attorney General in Porto Velho asking him to take measures to prevent the power plants from being built. The leaders asked the attorney general to "get in touch with Funai for the purpose of setting up a Technical Group to restudy the bounds of the traditional indigenous territory" which should cover an originally demarcated 236,137-hectare area. 

In the document, they say that the lands where these small power plants are being built are located inside the traditional territory of the peoples living in them. "We are asking them to return lands to us of which we are the true owners, which comprise the headwaters of the Figueira river, Paulo Saldanha, and the Branco river, where many indigenous cemeteries are located."

During the Amazon summer, which lasts from June to November, indigenous people living in 16 villages located on the banks of the river have a hard time to go anywhere, since the Branco river is their main transportation channel. In the past, it took them one hour to go from their villages to the city, but now it takes them five hours, creating huge problems for them, especially health care problems. "In some parts of the river, we have to drag our boats with our own hands," they say.

In addition to indigenous people, small farmers and riverine populations are being affected by the power plants.  In March of last year, small farmers, riverine populations and indigenous leaders reported to the ministries of Environment, Mines and Energy, and Justice that they were under constant pressure from the building companies to sell their lands, particularly from the group owned by the family of the state governor. "Many have given in, but others continue to resist under strong pressure, particularly from the Cassol Group," they say.


A surprising partial report issued with the clear purpose of defeating the struggle of indigenous people for their lands and jeopardizing indigenous rights provided for in the Constitution was approved yesterday (the 8th) by the Senate’s Land Affairs Committee.

The report presented by senator Delcídio Amaral (Workers’ Party) recommends, as a priority, a Constitutional Amendment Bill for the Senate to be heard in any procedure involving the demarcation of indigenous lands and for the Institutional Safety Office to be heard also when the lands in question are located in border areas.

Another recommendation of the report is the passage of a Constitutional Amendment Bill according to which the holders of title deeds to lands located in areas to be demarcated as indigenous areas are to be fully indemnified for having to leave them, and not only for improvements made therein, and the report also supports a bill proposing the establishment of indigenous debt bonds for the amounts involved in the indemnifications.

The Committee also proposed that if indigenous people return to their place of origin through reoccupation actions before demarcation procedures are concluded, the lands in question should not be declared indigenous lands. This means that lands reoccupied by force by indigenous people would never have their bounds as indigenous areas officially recognized.

All these proposals have enhanced the difficulties faced in demarcation procedures through the inclusion of new parties in decision-making processes, little political representation, and the banning of the only means indigenous people had to pressure the authorities, as a result of which it will become almost impossible for them to have the bounds of their lands officially confirmed. 

Brasília, 9 June  2004.

Cimi – Indianist Missionary Council

Fonte: Cimi - Assessoria de Imprensa
Share this: