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Tribute to Bepkororoti ‘Paulinho’ Payakan

Bepkororoti ‘Paulinho’ Payakan outside the Houses of Parliament in Westminster in 1989

We are deeeply saddened by the death from COVID-19 of the great leader and warrior Bepkororoti, better known as Paulinho Payakan.
Born in the village Kubẽkrãkêj in the 1950s, the son of chief Tchikirí, he went on to found the village A’Ukre. He dedicated his life tirelessly to protecting the forests and guaranteeing the territories and rights of Brazil’s indigenous peoples. He was one of the first of his people to learn Portuguese and like his uncle Raoni he was one of the Kayapó’s most accomplished diplomats. He was famous as a Mẽkabẽndjwỳj, a master of words – everyone was impressed to hear him speak. He had a wealth of knowledge about Mẽbêngôkre (Kayapó) culture and tradition, but he also understood better than any other Kayapó how the non-indigenous world worked. Although he was softly spoken he was astute and incisive in fighting for the rights of his people.

Bepkororoti ‘Paulinho’ Payakan speaking out against the construction of the Belo Monte dam in Altamira, Brazil, 1989

He made good use of his extraordinary communication skills to promote the cause of indigenous rights. He was a cornerstone of the indigenous movement in Brazil and became involved with the growing global environmental movement in the 1980s, building long-standing international partnerships for his people. He was fundamental in creating the main institutions of the Mẽbêngôkre-Kayapó people, including Associação Floresta Protegida (the Protected Forest Association). He was core to the struggle to ensure that indigenous rights were specifically included in the post-dictatorship 1988 Brazilian Constitution and he worked tirelessly to achieve the demarcation of the Kayapó Indigenous Territory. He was also at the forefront of the fight against the Belo Monte dam (then known as Kararaó) in the 1980s, preventing its construction until 2016, when a smaller scheme was built. He was the first elected president of the Federation of Indigenous Peoples of Pará State.
Payakan, your journey ends today in Ngômeiti village, where your relatives will mourn your departure. The indigenous movement has lost a great warrior and veteran of countless conquests. We honor you legacy and continue your struggle, alongside Oê and Maial, your daughters, who follow in your footsteps.

Bepkororoti ‘Paulinho’ Payakan with Sting and Chief Raoni in Altamira, Brazil, 1989

Report Back: Visit of Chiefs Raoni and Megaron

The summer has passed and we are now in the bracing clutches of autumn. Yet it seems only a few weeks ago that we had the immense pleasure of hosting Raoni Metuktire and Megaron Txucarramae, leaders of the Kayapo and spokesmen for all of Brazil’s indigenous peoples, in our home.

Chiefs in front of the House of Commons

The Chiefs in front of the House of Commons

Their visit was a whirlwind. They would have liked a little time to see our country, and we wanted very much to show them some of the sights that date back to tribal times in England, like Stonehenge and the Uffington White Horse.

But that was not to be; despite having very short notice of their visit we managed to put together a full programme, including open meetings at Oxford University and University College London, a meeting with senior-level MPs at the House of Commons and media interviews. They met with Survival International and the Gaia Foundation, and the Rainforest Foundation helped us to put on a press conference, chaired by Bianca Jagger. They even had a private meeting with Prince Charles.

We have produced a short video report of the visit:


British politicians active in the areas of international environment and human rights are now better informed about the situation on the ground in the Amazon. The impact of this is difficult to evaluate because the results are not always obvious.

Meeting at Parliament

Meeting at Paliament

The visit has elevated the public profile of Brazil’s indigenous peoples and highlighted the Brazilian government’s lack of commitment to supporting and prioritising environmental sustainability and indigenous peoples’ rights.


Land Demarcation

Raoni spoke passionately about the demarcation of indigenous territories. In particular he talked about Capot Nhinore, traditionally inhabited by the Kayapo, where his ancestors lie buried.

Although the government acknowledged the Indians’ claims over thirty years ago the area is still occupied illegally by settlers and farmers. Successive governments have unjustifiably sidelined the demarcation of this area.

The Kayapo are left with no alternative but to take matters into their own hands. If the government will not act to fulfil its obligations, then the indigenous people feel they must do it for themselves. They need our support to do this, and today, following a plea from the Chiefs during their visit, we launch a fundraising initiative to help them.

Please make a donation to our demarcation appeal:




After thirty years of procrastination, in 2012 Brazil’s courts directed Funai, the Indian agency, to demarcate the land. The technical work has now been completed, but the demarcation still requires the signature of the Minister of Justice,  José Eduardo Cardozo. It joins a growing number of other indigenous territories which have been fully researched and signed off by Funai, but which the Minister has refused, so far, to sign into law.

To put this into perspective, the 1988 constitution mandated the government to complete the demarcation of all indigenous territories within five years. Yet more than a quarter of a century later many remain undemarcated. The rate of demarcation declined under the presidency of Lula and has ground to a halt under Dilma Rousseff – not a single territory has been demarcated since April 2013, despite the pile of cases on Cardozo’s desk being now over thirty. The following table shows demarcations signed into law during the last six presidencies:

President [period] Number Extension (Ha)
Dilma Rousseff [Jan 2011 to Nov 2014] 11 2,025,406
Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva [Jan 2007 to Dec 2010] 21 7,726,053
Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva [Jan 2003 to Dec 2006] 66 11,059,713
Fernando Henrique Cardoso [Jan 1999 to Dec 2002] 31 9,699,936
Fernando Henrique Cardoso [Jan 1995 to Dec 1998] 114 31,526,966
Itamar Franco [Oct 92 to Dec 94] 16 5,432,437
Fernando Collor [Mar 90 to Sep 92] 112 26,405,219
José Sarney [Apr 85 to Mar 90] 67 14,370,486

(Source: Instituto Socioambiental – ISA)

The complete halt since April 2013 clearly demonstrates this government’s reluctance to fulfil its statutory obligations.

Changes to Brazilian Law

Proposals to change Brazilian law in ways which will badly affect Brazil’s indigenous peoples are deeply troubling for Megaron. He told his audiences about several measures, any one of which will spell disaster for many indigenous communities. These range from moves to modify the 1988 constitution itself, to changes in ministerial regulations which could open up indigenous territories for mining and agriculture, oil exploration and dam building.

These represent a major attack on the rights and interests of indigenous peoples. They go against the letter and the spirit of Brazil’s international commitments, including United Nations declarations and conventions which it has signed up to. They also conflict with rights granted under Brazil’s own laws, but the justice system is heavily loaded in favour of the government and against the intersts of indigenous communities.

Dam Building

Dams present polemical problems in the Amazon. The Brazilian government claims they are a source of green energy, yet they produce so much methane that they can contribute more to climate change than producing the same amount of energy from fossil fuels. The social and environmental impacts are horrendous, and they bring hundreds of thousands of migrants into sensitive environments with no infrastructure, where they wreak unrestrained havoc.

Belo Monte construction site

Belo Monte construction site

But the Brazilian government is adamant: Brazil will build ever more dams. Belo Monte, the world’s third largest, is presently under construction, despite Brazil’s courts having found it illegal time and time again. There are over twenty legal cases against it, mostly initiated by the Public Prosecutors’ Office in Belém. Each case takes years to come to court, yet when the courts impose injunctions to stop the construction they are suspended in days by a judge in chambers, pending a hearing in a higher court. That hearing is always years away, and in the intervening time the construction project steams ahead despite being judged illegal.

One case which was initiated nine years ago, brought on the grounds that the project is unconstitutional, finally reached the Court of Appeal in August of 2012. Three High Court judges unanimously upheld the findings of the lower court and reimposed the injunction, paralysing the scheme. Within days, a carefully chosen Supreme Court judge had suspended the injunction yet again, allowing construction to recommence. By the time the case gets to a full hearing in the Supreme Court, the dam will be complete, so any finding will be too little, too late.

These inequalities in Brazil’s legal process are at odds with its claim to be a modern democracy. They hark back to the dark days of military dictatorship.

Brazil has plans for up to sixty huge dams in the Amazon, and hundreds of smaller ones.

The sensitive rainforest environment is already changing, becoming drier and less stable. Rapid development in the States of Mato Grosso and Pará in recent years are already causing a reduction in rainfall which threatens to leave the dams with insufficient water to work efficiently, yet the viability and environmental studies for them failed even to consider these factors at all.

With Belo Monte fast becoming a fait accommpli, attention is now moving to the next river, the Tapajos, where three dams are already in the advanced planning stage. These will have a massive impact on the Mundurucu indigenous people.

More Information:

Belo Monte Hydroelectric Dam:
Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Amazon Dams:
Scientific Paper about GHG emissions from Dams:
Tapajos River – Hydroelectric dams:

Interview on Channel 4 News

Kayapo Chiefs Raoni Metuktire and Megaron Txucarramãe arrived in England last Monday. They found themselves very quickly ushered into the high tech surroundings of the Channel 4 studio!

It has been twenty-five years since Chief Raoni was accompanied by rock star Sting on a world tour. Sadly, the threats and problems that existed then are still causing problems, and a giant dam – Belo Monte, which will be the world’s third largest – is being built on the Xingu River where he lives.

The Chiefs were here to ask for our help. The interview is moving. Paul Mason said on his blog “It’s one of the most amazing encounters I’ve ever had – and one that nobody in the world will be able to have again if we let development and resource speculation destroy what’s left of the world’s indigenous peoples.” – See more on Paul’s blog

Here is the interview with Paul Mason on Channel 4 News:

It was a great experience. It was very touching how, with the interview completed, all of Paul’s highly professional team just couldn’t wait to get selfies of themselves with the chiefs – and that included Paul Mason himself, who was clearly deeply moved by the meeting!

Bianca Jagger Writes in Huffington Post: “The World Cup Exposes Brazil’s Injustices”

Bianca Jagger has written a thorough article in the Huffington Post, timed to coincide with both the coming visit of Chiefs Raoni Metuktire and Megaron Txucarramãe and the start of the World Cup. Well worth a read.

The World Cup Exposes Brazil’s Injustices by Bianca Jagger

Belo Monte Dam in AQA Geography Unit 4B

It is good news that the English AQA examination board is focusing on Belo Monte in the Geography 4B GCSE unit.

On this website we have a section specifically for schools (More Information>For Schools) which includes general information about the Amazon, highlighting the position of and threats to indigenous people. Under More Information>Threats there is original material about hydroelectric dams, focusing heavily on Belo Monte: Hydroelectric Dams. Don’t stop at the end of the section, there is relevant material under the next heading – Mineral Extraction – and there are some links related to Belo Monte at the bottom of the page.

There is a film about Belo Monte (with English subtitles) and other video resources on our Videos page and on our YouTube Channel

Please let us know if you find this interesting. If there is more information you would like to know or if you have questions, either go on our Facebook page and post your enquiry there, or send us an email. You will be in direct contact with people who have long personal experience of the Xingu River and a profound understanding of the issues involved. You should of course also explore the views of other people who hold different views!

There is plenty of additional information on the Heart of Brazil Expedition blog. The following posts are relevant to your studies about Belo Monte:

Belo Monte Environmental Impact Assessment
Hydroelectric Dams: The Indians Unite
Hydroelectricity in the Heart of Brazil
Altamira to Porto De Moz; Hydroelectric Potential

The No Belo Monte Dam blog also has plenty of information about the scheme

Indigenous People’s Cultural Support Trust, the registered charity behind Tribes Alive, put out this press release at the time of the huge demonstration in Altamira in 2008. It includes useful historic, scientific, legal and social background, but remember that it was written four years ago!

Finally, you can see galleries of our photos from the Xingu in our photos page. Although you can’t download them from the galleries, if you have a specific request we will grant you a restricted license and send you a download link.

Belo Monte is a very complex issue, It can be covered  in a quite superficial way, but if you mine the resources presented or linked to here you will gain a profound understanding. Good luck!

Justice Now! For Belo Monte

Today, the 30th November 2012, representatives of 141 Brazilian civil society organisations will deliver to Brazil’s Supreme Court judges a carefully reasoned letter pointing out the absurd legal inconsistencies which are allowing construction of Belo Monte to continue.

The letter details the loopholes which Norte Energia and the Brazilian government are exploiting to bulldoze through, both literally and metaphorically,  the construction of Belo Monte despite the existence of 13 outstanding legal cases, most of which have resulted in injunctions to prevent the continuation of work. These injunctions have been set aside one by one by a single judge sitting in chambers using a draconian and undemocratic law passed by the generals of the military dictatorship era, fifty years ago.

The dam builders are betting on those cases not reaching the Supreme Court until the dam is a fait accompli. Their actions have no place in a modern democracy which claims to respect human rights and the rule of law. All the Brazilian organisations are asking is that the Supreme Court should adjudicate these cases; we don’t think that is too much to ask!

63 international organisations have endorsed the letter, including Tribes Alive.

Movimento Xingu Vivo Para Sempre, the lead organisation, has established an on-line petition (in English), which is open to be signed by individuals from around the globe:
Xingu Vivo Petition

…and Bad News on Belo Monte

Not unexpectedly, but still disappointingly, the President of the Supreme Court, Carlos Ayres Britto, has suspended the injunction which halted work on the dam.

In a move which represents a total capitulation of the Supreme Court to the wishes of the Executive he refused to comment on the legal aspects, but nonetheless suspended the injunction until the case reaches a full Supreme Court hearing.

How is this a total capitulation? According to Norte Energia, the company building the dam, the government has already spent the major part of R$5 billion through the largely nationally-owned companies which form the core of Norte Energia, and it is incurring further costs daily. Immense damage has already been done in terms of the destruction of the physical, social, cultural and food security of the indigenous tribes affected. The environment suffers more with each day that work progresses. We are at, or very close to, the point where the damage done is irreversible, and the investment so huge that no judgement from any court could stop the Leviathan’s progress.

No date has been set for a hearing in the Supreme Court. The case is unlikely to reach the Court for months or even years, by which time the dam will be more or less built, the destruction will have already have been done, the indigenous cultures will have been wiped out, and therefore the case will be no more than academic.

Ayres Britto seems to be blind to the fact that the government has succeeded in bypassing the country’s constitution and huge swathes of its environmental and human rights legislation. Because of the enormity of the project, judging that a fait accompli was carried out illegally can do nothing to reverse the damage done. The Supreme Court will have no sanction available; at worst the government may receive a slap on the wrist, which it will simply shrug off on its march towards the next illegal mega-project on the next river.

It is sad to see Brazil’s young democracy suffer such degradation. Without a proper balance between the Three Powers – which are so iconically at the heart of Brasilia, where the Executive, the Judiciary and Congress all sit on the Square of the Three Powers – Brazil is reverting to a dictatorship, with a Judiciary cowed into submission by an all-powerful Executive, which in turn is endorsed by a supine and submissive Congress, influenced and financed by corporate interests.

We watched through the 1980s as Brazil left the years of dictatorship behind. We were in awe as the country swept into a new age of enlightenment, enacting progressive laws to protect the rights of its citizens, whether rich or poor, black or white, immigrant or indigenous. The adoption of the 1988 Constitution was a high point, and the hosting of the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit was a triumph. Brazil was seen throughout the world as a bright star, a shining example of how a young democracy could vigorously defend what was good and humanitarian.

How sad to see such promise dashed. Mired in wave after wave of corruption at the highest level – ironically the Supreme Court cannot judge the Belo Monte case because it is embroiled in the Mensalão case, which is about corruption in the highest ranks of the government – Brazil’s burgeoning wealthy elite are following the worst example of their gurus in the developed world and enriching themselves with no thought for those who are paying the price for their riches.

The government is enthusiastically endorsing policies and legislation which has no other intention but to take away the safeguards built so painstakingly into the fabric of the modern Brazilian state. First, the courageous and far-reaching (if poorly enforeced) Forest Code was watered down, paving the way to rising deforestation and increased conflict over land tenure. Now there is a project to change the constitution (known as PEC 215) which will transfer responsibility for demarcation of indigenous territories from FUNAI to the National Congress, where each and every proposal will be bogged down for years unless it is simply dismissed at the outset. There is the crazy AGU 303 decree referred to in another article here. And there are the multiple mega projects planned for the Amazon which will result in no more nor less than cultural genocide.

President Dilma Rousseff appears disinterested in anything which might impede her developmentalist agenda for the Amazon. She seems to look upon anyone and anything which is not part of the rich, new world of Brazilian economics and business as a trifling impediment to be brushed aside, whether they be indigenous people, rural settlers, threatened species or ecosystems. She has her priorities and nothing and no-one may be permitted to stand in her way.

Good News on Belo Monte

In a decision which has fundamental implications for the Brazilian government’s relationship with indigenous people, the Federal Regional Court 1 (TRF1) in Brasilia unanimously upheld an earlier decision by the Federal Court in the State of Pará on appeal. The court ruled that the 2005 Congressional Decree which allowed the Belo Monte dam project to be developed was illegal, and accordingly annulled it. The effect is that all of the subsequent environmental licensing process is also invalid. The appeal court also upheld the lower court’s decision that the Government acted in flagrant breach of the United Nations International Labour Organisation Convention 169, of which Brazil is a signatory and which is therefore incorporated into Brazilian Law.

This decision is extremely important. It recognises that the Brazilian government has failed to respect fundamental issues of legality, including its own constitution, its own human rights and environmental legislation, and its international obligations. It was handed down unanimously by three judges sitting in a higher court in the capital. It is made on the basis of the legislation and irrespective of the government’s overriding ambitions. And it is unequivocal in its condemnation.

The court imposed an immediate halt to the construction of the dam, with a daily fine of R$500,000 for any breach. In an interview following the ruling, Judge Souza Prudente was damning; “We are not fighting the government’s acceleration project,” he said. “But it cannot be a dictatorial process. The communities are crying out to be heard but they continue to be ignored. The model of preliminary authorisations followed by studies after the event for hydroelectric dams needs to be looked at again because it is authoritarian and unacceptable.”

Public Prosecutor Felicio Pontes, the author of the original action, said “The legislative decree which authorised Belo Monte without consulting the Indians was a truly monumental affront to the Constitution.” According to him, because the judgement relates to the constitution, the only recourse open to the government now is an appeal to the Supreme Court.

If it chooses to respect this decision, the government will have to go back to the beginning and instigate properly-constituted consultations with the indigenous communities involved, which have to be carried out by Congress and not by the partisan organisations which have so far been involved with the consultations – such as they were – carried out as part of the licensing process. It will then have to go through the steps of obtaining approval from the government agencies involved before it can issue new licenses, since those already in place are no longer valid.

But it is unlikely that the government will be willing to take this legal and democratic route. The same court handed down a judgement a week earlier on another dam project, on the Teles Pires River, in which its judgement was based on the same issues. Again the judgement was unanimous and unequivocal. But just a week later the President of TRF1, Mário César Ribeiro, sitting in chambers, set aside the injunction and permitted the continuation of work on the Teles Pires pending a further appeal. It seems likely that we will see this same process of a judge sitting secretly in chambers overturning the decision of a panel of judges sitting under public scrutiny in an open court in the case of Belo Monte.

Nonetheless, this decision is a great triumph for the cause of the environment, indigenous people and Brazilian democracy and justice. It represents a landmark in the relationship between the executive and the judiciary, with the judiciary finally being prepared to stand up for their own independence and authority in the face of enormous pressure from the Rousseff government.

Belo Monte Hydroelectric Dam – Update

The Belo Monte hydroelectric dam is under construction on the Volta Grande section of the Xingu River. It is already having a substantial impact on the lives of the Juruna, Arara and Xicrin indigenous people who live there. Since the construction of a ‘coffer’ dam – a temporary dam to enable construction work on the main installations to take place – the water quality has deteriorated dramatically. The river is the principal source of drinking water and is the bathing place for these villages, so the dramatic rise in the amount of sediment in the water is a serious issue, directly affecting their health, their hygiene and their ability to feed themselves.

Human Banner Protest, Rio+20

Human Banner Protest, Rio+20

The dam construction company was supposed to provide alternative sources of clean water before they undertook work which would affect the river in this way, but they have failed to do so. Several other provisions were included in an ’emergency fund’ package and a Basic Environmental Plan, but so far nothing has been put in place. The company has not even ensured the maintenance of river transport, the vital and only connection the villages have to town for emergency medical treatment, purchasing goods and trading products.

Protest Banner, Belo Monte Dam Site

Protest Banner, Belo Monte; courtesy Amazon Watch

“They are not complying with what they promised to do in our villages,” said indigenous leader Mukuka Xicrin, “principally the [legally required] conditions [imposed by Brazil’s environment agency], everything is being left to fall behind. We are seeing that the destruction of nature and of the river is very great, and we are not going to let them carry on with the work any more. We need the press to come here to let the whole world know what is happening here. The government keeps saying that we are OK, but no, the situation here is really bad, we people who will bear the impact don’t have any guarantee about our rights whatever. And we’re asking the courts to call a halt to the works of Belo Monte.”

Rivers For Life, Rio+20

Rivers For Life, Rio+20. Courtesy Amazon Watch

More about the occupation from Amazon Watch here
and from International Rivers here

Indigenous groups have occupied the site for over a week in an attempt to force the construction company to fulfill its legal undertakings. While the occupation was taking place in the Amazon, a group of over 1,500 indigenous people and their supporters made a sympathetic living work of art on Flamengo beach during the Rio+20 People’s Summit, joining their bodies together to make the design of an Indian chief holding his hand up symbolically to the sun. This followed a similar protest at the site of the dam, where people formed the words ‘Pare Belo Monte’ (Stop Belo Monte) using their bodies. They also dug a symbolic break through the temporary dam.

Pare Belo Monte images here

Rio+20 Human Artwork images here

The construction company has attempted to get the courts to order the forcible removal of the protestors, but the local court sided with the protestors and ordered the company to enter into negotiations. It remains to be seen if they will comply, or merely appeal the ruling to a judge in Brasilia. In past cases judges in the capital have been more amenable to the company’s views than the local judges, who have a direct understanding of the situation. A report from the inter-American lawyer’s organisation which is supporting the protestors can be found here.