Brazil Indians free workers at hydroelectric site

By Tales Azsoni
Sao Paulo, Brazil (AP) July 2010

Protesters on July 26 released workers from the construction site of an Amazon hydroelectric plant that Indians say is being built on an ancient burial ground.

The Indians initially freed about 100 rank-and-file workers and later the last five senior employees who had been kept inside the Dardanelos plant in the city of Aripuana, national Indian bureau coordinator Antonio Carlos Ferreira Aquino said.

On July 25, about 300 Indians from eight tribes blocked them from entering or leaving the construction site. The protesters are demanding compensation for what they consider an offense to their culture and traditions, and they released the workers after winning a meeting with authorities for talks on reparations.

“This construction has caused a big impact on the lives of our people,” Indian chief Aldeci Arara told Globo’s G1 website. “This protest is helping us expedite a solution.”

Aquino said Mato Grosso state officials authorized the plant’s construction before the site was known to be on top of the burial ground.

Plant manager Paulo Rogerio Novaes told the official Agencia Brasil news service that construction will not directly affect the Indians, whose nearest tribe is about 40 kilometers (25 miles) away. He said the plant’s developers have contributed to the local community by funding social programs.

The standoff did not turn violent although some of the protesters were armed with bows and arrows, Aquino said, adding that no firearms were involved.

The plant, expected to be completed by the end of the year, is one of many being built in the Amazon.

They include what would be the world’s third-largest hydroelectric plant, Belo Monte, which is expected to be built despite protests from activist who say it would devastate wildlife as well as the livelihoods of Indians and some other 40,000 people.