Brazil Indians protest president’s plans for dams, roads

Hundreds of tribal Indians have camped out in front of Brazil’s Congress to protest infrastructure projects that they say threaten the survival of tribes already struggling with disease and land disputes.

From women clad only in grass skirts to youngsters in jeans and T-shirts, the Indians came to Brazil’s capital this week to present their demands to President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

An economic stimulus package announced by Lula in January foresees 10 hydroelectric projects, eight power lines, seven roads, three gas pipelines, and two railroads in the Amazon region alone, according to the environmental think tank ISA. (HNN 1/23/07)

Lula aims to speed economic growth by steering cash into long-delayed infrastructure projects. Under the 503.9 billion real (US$237 billion) program, the central government would chip in just 67.8 billion reais (US$31.8 billion) for investments over four years. The rest, 436.1 billion reais (US$204.7 million), would come from state-run companies and the private sector, which the government hopes to woo with tax breaks.

Indians fear the projects will bring more loggers, wildcat miners, pollution, and disease to the Amazon rainforest. Many tribes are already struggling to survive.

Many think that Lula, a leftist former union leader, has let them down. He shelved most of their requests for land in his first term as president and proposes infrastructure projects that threaten their livelihood in his second term, they say.

The four-day protest ended April 19, when Brazil marked the history of its indigenous people with an official Indians Day.

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