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Amazon Indians Mobilize to Block Dams : 2 on Trial for Saying Projects Would Flood Tribal Lands in Brazil

October 29, 1988|WILLIAM R. LONG | Times Staff Writer

RIO DE JANEIRO — Two Brazilian Indian leaders, on trial for speaking in the United States against dam projects that would flood tribal lands in Brazil, said Friday that they are mobilizing thousands of other Amazon Indians in a protest campaign.

"We are going to continue our struggle," said Paulinho Paiakan, a Kaiapo chieftain. "We are not going to let them build those dams."

Speaking at a Rio press conference, Paiakan vowed that if work starts on the planned dams, Indians will occupy the construction camps. He and Kubei Kaiapo, another Kaiapo chieftain, said they are inviting 4,000 to 5,000 Indians from numerous Amazon tribes to a gathering in late January to discuss the whole problem of devastation of Amazon rain forests.

Last January, Paiakan and Kubei traveled to the University of Florida for a conference on the Amazon region. Through an interpreter, American naturalist Darrel Posey, they expressed objections to plans for a series of hydroelectric dams on the Xingu River, an Amazon tributary that runs through Kaiapo reserves.

In Washington, Paiakan and Kubei repeated their objections at a meeting at the World Bank, which had offered $500 million in financing for the projects. The financing was suspended, reportedly for reasons other than the Indian opposition, but the opposition irritated Brazilian authorities.

Posey, who has lived in the Amazon region since 1977, was charged under a section of Brazil's law on foreign residents that prohibits them from intervening in national affairs or "denigrating" the country's image. Paiakan and Kaiapo were charged as accomplices.

Could Be Expelled

Jose Carlos Castro, a lawyer for the three, said that if they are convicted, they could be imprisoned for up to three years and that Posey could also be expelled from the country. Castro said he will ask that the charges against the Indians be dismissed because, he argues, Brazilians cannot be charged under the law on foreigners. He also contends that the charges violate a constitutional guarantee of freedom of expression.

"What we have here is an inversion of democratic values," he said.

Added Paiakan, "If the government charges us under the law for foreigners, then we want our own country, we want our independence."

On Oct. 14, nearly 400 Indians in war paint showed up in Belem, at the mouth of the Amazon, for a protest demonstration when a court hearing was scheduled for Kubei. The hearing was canceled when the judge barred Kubei from entering the courtroom wearing Indian attire.

The judge has scheduled a new session for Nov. 25 to begin hearing witnesses in the case.

Lawyer Castro said the first two dams in the Xingu hydroelectric complex will inundate 10 Indian villages.

The planned Xingu dams are part of a proposed hydroelectric network in the Amazon that eventually is to include more than two dozen dams.

Conservationists say the dams, slash-and-burn farming practices and mining threaten the ecological balance and Indian cultures throughout the Amazon basin, the world's largest region of tropical rain forests. The forests are home to an estimated 200,000 Indians.

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