BRASILIA – (AFP) – Native Brazilians who are embroiled in land feuds with white farmers and others opposed to construction of the Belo Monte dam in the Amazon on Thursday took their grievances to the presidential palace.
Violence has been sparked by a spate of disputes in central Mato Grosso do Sul. One percent of the Brazilian population controls 46 percent of the cultivated land.
Armed with bows, arrows and spears and wearing face paint, feathers and straw clothing, 200 indigenous people massed in central Brasilia where they aired their complaints outside President Dilma Rousseff’s office.
“We demand an end to the violence against indigenous people, we want the return of our ancestral lands occupied by landowners,” said Gilma Veron, an ethnic Terena from the hamlet of Buriti in Mato Grosso do Sul.
Last Friday, a Terena died during a police operation ordered to expel 1,000 natives who occupied a local farm.
“The government says it has no money to speed up the handover of lands to the indigenous people, but look at the thousands of millions of dollars it is spending on stadiums for the (2014) World Cup,” Veron told AFP.
The federal government has deployed a 110-strong contingent of the National Force, a special police unit, in Sidrolandia, where indigenous Terena are occupying a white-owned farm to demand the return of their ancestral lands.
“If the government does not find a solution, we will camp here indefinitely,” Verone said.
Rousseff has said her government will respect any decision made by judicial authorities on the land dispute, but she favors negotiations “to prevent conflicts, deaths and injuries.”
Her government is also facing recurring protests by indigenous communities affected by construction of the huge Belo Monte dam in the Amazon.
Belo Monte, which is being built at a cost of $13 billion, is expected to flood an area of 500 square kilometers (200 square miles) along the Xingu River, displacing 16,000 people, according to the government.
Some NGOs have estimated that 40,000 people would be displaced by the giant project.
The dam, expected to produce 11,000 megawatts of electricity, would be the third-biggest in the world, after China’s Three Gorges facility and Brazil’s Itaipu dam in the south.
Indigenous groups say the dam will harm their way of life. Environmentalists have warned of deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions and irreparable damage to the ecosystem.
Indigenous peoples represent less than one percent of Brazil’s 194 million people and occupy 12 percent of the national territory, mainly in the Amazon.