In the heart of London, in front of BNDES, the Brazilian Development Bank, Sheyla Yakarepi Juruna leads a vocal protest.
“We’re here at the BNDES to demand transparency, and to know exactly what role this bank is playing,” said the young representative of Brazil’s Juruna people. “It talks about sustainable development, but in reality it finances big companies in Amazonia that destroy populations without any respect for their rights.”
Sheyla Yakarepi Juruna travels the world to raise awareness about the threats facing the Amazonian forest and its people.
Her principal battle is against the Belo Monte Dam project due to be the third largest dam in the world built on the River Xingu, a tributary of the Amazon.
It is 2,000 kilometres long, and the river banks are home to 35,000, among them 15,000 indigenous people.
On the river, she told us: “This is where they will build a huge wall, using the hill that’s already here. That will be the base for a wall 70 metres high and four kilometres long. It will block the river and dry it up for more than 100 kilometres.
“The River Xingu is our home. It means life to our people, because thanks to the river, we survive. If the river dies, our whole culture and our people will die with it.”
Sheyla gave the Juruna people a voice by forming an association a few years ago.
The 36-year-old is from the village of Boa Vista, in the state of Para.
Her work has earned the respect of her community, who chose her as its spokeswoman.
Village chief Francisco Bernadino Juruna said: “In my eyes, Sheyla is a warrior. She has been fighting for more than 20 years. I have great respect for her, I know she is leading great battles.”
By flooding the forest upstream, and starving the river downstream, the Belo Monte Dam will affect the life of eight indigenous tribes, two of them drastically.
The Brazilian constitution guarantees, in principle, the tribes living in indigenous lands exclusive use of the territory. According to national and international law, any exploitation project must be subject to consultation with the populations concerned.
Josinei, who represents the Arara tribe told euronews: “We haven’t been consulted. We don’t need this electricity. We need the forest to hunt, to feed ourselves, to fish in the river and to bathe in it. That’s what we want, we don’t want their energy!”
But the project’s backers say the dam would bring wider benefits to the country as a whole.
Eraldo Pimenta, the Prefect of Uruará and President of the Belo Monte Consortium, said: “This is about energy security and independence for Brazil. It’s not just about energy independence. It’s also about industrial development in the north of the country, in the state of Para. We estimate that this dam will generate 11,000 megawatts of power, which will be fed into the electricity grid from north to south.”
Sheyla countered: “We don’t believe the argument that Brazil needs more energy, and needs this dam to develop. There are other interests involved in the River Xingu dam. And they are linked to mineral resources, and this region has plenty of those.”
Environmental defence organisations also reject another theory that argues the hydro-electric project will benefit the population by reducing the need for other, more polluting forms of energy production.
They claim 30 percent of the electricity produced by the dam will supply polluting industries like aluminium production, meant for export, and not for domestic consumption.
Sheyla wants all the river communities to support the indigenous people. She showed euronews the Xingi river fishermen at market and said: “Just like us, they will suffer, because they will lose the work of a lifetime. We need to unite to defend our lives and our territory.”