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Half a million people sign petition against Belo Monte, Brazilian mega-dam

In a protest today in Brasilia, Brazil, indigenous people delivered a petition to authorities signed by 500,000 people calling on them to cancel the controversial Belo Monte dam. They hope the petition, organized by online activist group Avaaz, will help convince Brazil’s new president, Dilma Rousseff, to cancel the project. However, actions by Brazil’s first female president have pushed the dam forward.

Two weeks after the new government came to power, the head of Brazil’s environment agency, IBAMA, stepped down, reportedly under pressure to approve the dam despite environmental concerns. Last week IBAMA granted partial licensure to the project, allowing the first phase of construction—clearing rainforest—to go ahead. However, such a partial licensure is unheard of in Brazil. The biggest financial backer of the dam, The Brazilian National Development Bank (BNDES), has pulled back, stating it won’t release a promised loan until 40 environmental and social conditions are met and the full licensure is granted.

“This is a life and death struggle,” said Sheyla Juruna, one of the delegates who met with the Office of the President during the protest. “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.”

Critics of the massive dam project contend that 50,000 indigenous people will lose their livelihoods and at least 12,000 will have to be relocated from the Xingu River. Environmentalists say the dam will release massive amounts of the potent greenhouse gas methane due to rotting vegetation and disrupt fish migrations. In addition, the dam will flood over 100,000 acres of primary rainforest.

The Brazilian government, however, has stated it needs the 11-17 billion dollar dam to power the increasing energy demands of its growing economy.

The dam will provide enough energy to power 23 million homes, yet during three to four months of the year it will run on only 10-30% capacity due to low waters.

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Chief financier of Belo Monte dam ties social and environmental requirements to controversial project

(02/04/2011) The Brazilian National Development Bank (BNDES) has announced it will not grant a $640 million loan for the hugely controversial Belo Monte dam until 40 social and environmental conditions are met. In response, the company contracted to build the dam, Norte Energia, S.A. (NESA), has stated it may drop the bank’s loan altogether and seek less discriminating private funding to start construction. Last week the Brazilian government’s environmental agency IBAMA announced that the dam had been granted a partial license, an aberration in Brazilian law, to jumpstart construction. But BNDES also says it will not hand out the loan until a full license is granted.

Despite fierce opposition, work begins on Belo Monte dam

(01/27/2011) Arguably the most opposed dam project in the world received the go-ahead this week, reports the BBC. Brazil’s environmental agency, IBAMA, has approved the first step of the massive hydroelectric project: clearing 588 acres of rainforest in the Amazon, although the dam would flood nearly 200 square miles (500 square kilometers) of forest.

Brazil’s environment chief resigns over controversial Amazon dam

(01/14/2011) The president of Brazil’s environmental agency IBAMA has resigned over pressure to grant a license for the Belo Monte dam, a hydroelectric project on the Xingu River that faces strong opposition from environmental groups and indigenous tribes, reports O Globo.

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