“The World Must Know What Is Happening Here”: The Story Behind Those Shocking Viral Images

by Sophie McAdam


The story of the indigenous fight against a super hydro-electric dam in the Amazon, and what you can do to support them.


Many of you will have seen these two disturbing images of indigenous abuse by the Brazilian authorities that have been circulating the internet recently. The first depicts a visibly shaken indigenous man being forcibly restrained by a soldier as other members of the military take up arms and run to their positions in the background.

The second shows a mother with a toddler on her hip trying desperately to push back against the armed men surrounding her. Their faces and bodies are obscured by shields, so we can see only their military boots and a single threatening baton. These soldiers tower over the petite woman, whose distressed expression as she struggles against them makes for a very powerful photograph.

The story behind these tragic images relates to indigenous protests against the proposed building of the Belo Monte mega-dam on the Xingu river in the Brazilian Amazon. The dam would flood a vast area of fertile land, dry up parts of the Xingu river, cause huge devastation to the rainforest, and greatly reduce fish stocks along a 100km stretch of river, a food source which the tribal people in the area depend on for their survival.

The Belo Monte dam is just one of many planned under Brazil‘s ‘Accelerated Growth Plan’, which aims to create jobs and boost the economy by building roads, dams and other infrastructure, mainly in the Amazon basin. Belo Monte will be the world’s third largest dam if it goes ahead. It was first proposed in the 1980s, and the fight against it has been brought to the world’s attention by endless protests by tribal people in the area: The Kayapó, Arara, Juruna, Araweté, Xikrin, Asurini and Parakanã Indians all depend on the proposed site for their survival, according to Survival International, a charity that fights for the rights of indigenous people worldwide.

The man and woman shown in the upsetting viral photographs are members of the Kayapó tribe, who have been at the forefront of the battle against this so-called ‘growth’ for three decades and counting.

“We don’t want this dam to destroy the ecosystems and the biodiversity that we have taken care of for millenia and which we can still preserve”, the Kayapó explained to their government in an open letter. In another statement given to Survival, one of the tribe‘s elders urged: “The world must know what is happening here. They must perceive how destroying forests and indigenous people destroys the entire world.”

Huge tribal protests in 2009 were successful in halting the progress of the Belo Monte dam, when the Kayapó warned that its construction would force them to declare war on the government; the rivers would run red with blood before they would stop fighting the proposed ecocide. The battle was won but the war was not, and indigenous people continue to defend their land to this day.

The dam will cost over US$10 billion and affect over nine million hectares of pristine rainforest. Although many would argue the economic benefits of such a plan. it’s worth pointing out that while the dam would bring in more than 200,000 workers to the area, it would also force an estimated 20,000 local people from their homes (not to mention many species of wildlife). A large proportion of those humans displaced will be indigenous peoples, who have been living in (and protecting) the area for centuries.


Above (photo by Terence Turner, Survival International): Kayapó form a dance line at an anti-dam protest, Piaraçu, Mato Grosso, Brazil, in 2006. Two hundred representatives of the Mebegokre Kayapó Indians met for five days to discuss the Belo Monte dam and four other dams which will devastate their lands. Almost a decade later, the tribe is still fighting government proposals.

Tribal people are very vulnerable to infections and illnesses from outside; even the common cold can be fatal. The proposed area to be dammed is thought to be home to many uncontacted tribes, who have the right to be left alone to live in harmony with their ancestral lands. The construction would attract large numbers of migrant workers and colonists who are likely to bring diseases to indigenous tribal people, literally putting their lives at risk. There is a high risk of invasion of native territories and violence, and the livelihoods of thousands of tribal people who depend on the forest and river for food and water would be destroyed.

In addition, the Brazilian government’s plans are illegal. Indigenous people have not been properly consulted about the dam, which violates both Brazilian and International law. The Xingu River is one of the Amazon’s main tributaries, and more than 80% of its flow would be diverted by the massive hydro-electric dam. This would have a devastating effect on a vital eco-system, one frequently referred to as ‘the lungs of the world’.

Please share this story if you want to support the Amazon‘s indigenous people in their fight, and consider writing a letter to Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff to urge her to re-consider Belo Monte and other proposed dams being built in the Amazon.


Above: (Greenpeace, Survival International) Kayopo people protesting Belo Monte in 2009.

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7 Responses to ““The World Must Know What Is Happening Here”: The Story Behind Those Shocking Viral Images”

  1. ian says:

    Armed jack booted thugs against indigenous people fighting to keep their way of life. It must have been enacted thousands of times all over the world. The indigenous people don’t tend to fare too well, which in this case is worrying or should be for everyone in the world, because the Amazon basin is the lungs of the world, at a time when it desperately needs them. Others peoples’ problems are easily suffered as the saying goes, but not when they impinge on us too. I’ll be following this closely.

  2. Lynn says:

    They are simply cutting off our access to nature. Like you say Ian, the lungs. They don’t want us having anything natural to life. This is a total war on people and our lives. Thugs hired by whimps to do the dirty again. All done over and over again. Only this time we are all aware of them. Like I say names and faces are known. Only a matter of when now. The world is watching.

  3. ian says:

    I was walking before and thinking. Most if not all of the young blokes I know. Sort of 18 to 30, would happily beat the shit out of folks for £500 a week and it’s going down in value. What a sad value system we have now. I’d be ashamed to harm someone who never harmed me.

  4. Bluefeather6 says:

    Another example of people in a position of power, authority (so called, and undeservedly so) – exceeding their role. All to accelerate and implement Agenda 21. Driving these beautiful people off their land and into the abyss of where?
    What rights have these sick individuals to dictate what they see as the right way to manage the land and rivers that these indigenous people know far,far more than they do. The land and water have consciousness and spirit, to them they would be life, and they reciprocate accordingly, honoring what Divine Source has created for them. Nobody has a right to destroy their way of life, their environment, their home. No harm, loss, injury or damage – doesn’t seem to apply to corporate bully boys.

  5. Neutrino says:

    The pictures look fake to me, almost staged in fact.

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