Brasilia, Feb 8, 2010—Over half a million people, most of them Brazilians are calling on newly elected President Dilma to halt plans to construct the Belo Monte Dam. Outside the Brazilian Congress and the Presidential Palace this morning, several hundred people gathered in protest including indigenous chiefs in full tribal regalia and community leaders from the Xingu River Basin and delivered the petition signatures to the Dilma government.
A delegation of leaders went inside the Presidential Palace around noon to present the petition, among them were Kayapó chiefs Raoni Metuktire and Megaron Txucarramãe from Mato Grosso state; Chief Ozimar Juruna, from Paquicamba village in Altamira; Josinei Arara, leader of Arara village in Altamira; Sheyla Juruna a leader of the Juruna people; and Antonia Melo, coordinator of the Movimento Xingu Vivo para Sempre.
“This is a life and death struggle,” stated Sheyla Juruna, one of the delegates who met with the Office of the President. “By pushing forward with this dam, the Dilma government is trampling on our rights. This is not just about defending the Xingu River, it’s about the health of the Amazon rainforest and our planet.”
Opposition to the dam project is growing among diverse sectors of civil society including scientists, politicians, dam-affected communities, environmentalists, and celebrities. At the rally today, Domingos Dutra, Labor Party Congressman from Mato Grosso and leading member of the Human Rights Commission of Congress challenged the government’s ambitious plans to promote an archaic energy model that includes plans for more than 60 major dams for the Amazon. Brazilian singer and songwriter Marlui Miranda performed at the demonstration while Marcos Palmeira, Dira Paes, Leticia Spiller and Brita Brazil were among Brazilian artists who issued written statements opposing the dam and calling for greener energy alternatives for meeting Brazil’s energy needs.
“The Brazilian public is sending a loud and clear message, one that is being echoed internationally that the Dilma Government needs to rethink the Belo Monte dam and opt for more sustainable ways of meeting Brazil’s energy needs,” said Christian Poirier, Brazil Program Coordinator for Amazon Watch. “The Belo Monte dam project is foolish on so many levels—from its social and environmental impacts on our climate and on the people and the rainforests of the Amazon to its technical and economic viability.”
The protests were sparked by Brazil’s environmental agency IBAMA’s decision on January 26 to grant a “partial license” despite overwhelming evidence that the dam-building consortium Norte Energia (NESA) has failed to comply with dozens of social and environmental conditions required for an installation license. The decision followed the controversial resignation of IBAMA’s president Abelardo Bayma, who allegedly departed amidst intense political pressures from President Dilma to approve the license.
While Dilma reportedly sees the dam projects as potentially the biggest achievement of her presidency, the controversy is fast becoming a serious challenge to her leadership and has fueled the debate about Brazil’s energy future.
In a letter to Dilma delivered along with the petition signatures, more than 78 civil society organizations called for the government to change its course for energy development for the country, articulating 12 demands for a more participatory, socially and environmentally just energy vision for Brazil.
“At today’s demonstrations, popular movements from the Xingu and Tapajos and Madeira rivers called on the Brazilian government to both cancel the Belo Monte dam complex and take bold measures to democratize energy planning in Brazil,” said Brent Millikan, Director of the Amazon Program for International Rivers.
Critics strongly refute Dilma’s assertions that dams provide “clean energy”. The risky USD $17 billion Belo Monte Dam Complex will divert nearly the entire flow of the Xingu River along a 62-mile stretch. Its reservoirs will flood more than 100,000 acres of rainforest and local settlements, displace more than 40,000 people and generate vast quantities of methane—a greenhouse gas at least 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
Further casting doubts over the project, a group of scientists issued a scientific paper this week warning that with climate change, severe droughts such as the one currently raging in the Amazon will be much more frequent raising serious questions about the technical and economic viability of large dams.
The petition was coordinated by the international online advocacy organization Avaaz. The demonstration was organized by the Movimento Xingu Vivo para Sempre, the Conselho Indigenista Missionário (Missionary Indigenous Council), the Movimento dos Atingidos por Barragens (MAB, or Movement of Dam-Affected People), the Coordenação das Organizações Indígenas da Amazônia Brasileira (COIAB, Indigenous Organizations Coordination of the Brazilian Amazon), Instituto Socioambiental (ISA) and promoted globally by Amazon Watch, International Rivers and Avaaz.