Amazonian chief Raoni on Thursday implored the UN environment summit in the Brazilian city to halt a US$13-billion dam being built in one of the world’s last bastions of wildlife.
“I want to ask the whole world to respect the indigenous peoples, to leave us in peace... without dams,” said the 82-year-old chief of the Kayapo tribe, bedecked with bright yellow and black feathers.
The chief became widely known in the 1980s for teaming up with British musician Sting for his defense of indigenous peoples’ rights.
He spoke through an interpreter on the sidelines of the Conference on Sustainable Development which opened on Wednesday. The giant meeting is to climax in a summit of an expected 116 leaders from Wednesday to Friday.
The 11,200-megawatt Belo Monte dam will span the Xingu River, a tributary of the Amazon, in a project billed by Brazil as providing clean energy for a fast-growing economy.
Work began a year ago, despite fierce opposition from local people and green activists.
Indigenous groups fear the dam will harm their way of life while environmentalists have warned of deforestation, greenhouse-gas emissions and irreparable damage to the ecosystem.
The third largest dam in the world, the Belo Monte is expected to flood an area of 500 square kilometers along the Xingu and displace 16,000 people, according to the government, although some NGOs put the number at 40,000 displaced.
“In this summit, I am going to ask that they respect the rights of those who live near the dam, so that they can continue to fish in the Xingu River, so that my children and grandchildren can fish, eat,” Chief Raoni said.
“I am going to ask again here that the Brazilian government stops construction of this dam. I am going to continue defending nature and call for respect of the forest because my ancestors, my parents lived here first,” he said.
Meanwhile, efforts to craft a deal on the environment for next week’s summit made painful progress.
A text to be put to world leaders aims at beefing up governance of green problems and establishing “Sustainable Development Goals” when the UN’s current Millennium Development Goals expire in 2015.
Among other things, it would address help for green business and cleaner energy and offer guidelines on how cities of the future can avoid traffic gridlock and slums, but only a quarter of the 81-page draft communique had been approved as of Thursday, the penultimate day of scheduled negotiations.
Seven “splinter” groups have been set up to try to resolve individual issues.