Opinion: Tribe in Brazilian rain forest under attack

"A few weeks ago, I flew over the Amazon in a single-engine Cessna to a reunion with the leaders of the Kayapó nation, one of South America's proudest and most famous indigenous groups. For decades, about 7,000 Kayapó have defended their 28 million-acre, Ohio-sized homeland in the Brazilian states of Pará and Mato Grosso from incursions by speculators, ranchers, gold miners, loggers and squatters.

Today, the Kayapó face a greater and more dangerous foe: five huge hydroelectric dams planned on their lifeline, the Xingu River, and completion of the second half of a 1,100-mile paved highway called BR-163 that slices through Pará. The road will open up the remote frontier region to the kind of exploitation and development that have deforested close to 20 percent of the Brazilian Amazon. Some of the richest biological diversity on the planet has been eliminated, mainly to grow more beef and soybeans for export.

The Kayapó grand chief, Megaron, is leading the fight to preserve their lands, which form the largest tropical rain forest reserve in the world. He and other indigenous leaders recently wrote to World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz, imploring him to ensure that the environmental impact of BR-163 and the dams are carefully considered before the bank funds them. Wrote Megaron: "If you lend money to the government of Brazil to pave roads and build other projects [such as] the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam, you will be contributing to the destruction of our forests, and conflicts with, possibly even deaths of, our people.""

Get the Story:
Russell A. Mittermeier: Let's hope Amazon tribe succeeds in defending its land (The Baltimore Sun 9/7)

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