Eye on the Amazon

Over 600,000 Petitions Delivered to Brazilian Government This Week

This is not just about defending the Xingu River, it's about the health of the Amazon rainforest and our planet.Sheyla Juruna

Sheyla Jununa leading a march against the Belo Monte Dam complex

If you are one of over 600,00 people who signed the global petition to stop the Belo Monte Dam in the Brazilian Amazon, you should know that your signature didn't get lost in cyberspace somewhere. It was delivered to the Brazilian government on Tuesday afternoon here in Brasilia by a delegation of indigenous and community leaders from the Xingu River basin, including Kayapo Chief Raoni, Sheyla Juruna and Antonia Melo following a historic gathering of hundreds of people in front on Brazil's National Congress and a march to the Palacio Planalto – Brazil's Presidential Palace.

At the time of delivery, the total number of signatures was 610, 578! This is amazing considering that our initial goal in late August was 50,000. At that time, there were warning signs that former President Lula was going to steamroll a partial installation license for initial construction, including roads and work camps, to begin in October. Fortunately, that didn't happen before Lula left office at the end of 2010. This bought time to organize on the ground in Altamira – the nearest city to where the Dam would be built, and a region where 30% of the city is projecte'sd to flood if built. During that time, Amazon Watch and International Rivers supported the Movimento Xingu Vivo Para Sempre or Xingu Alive Forever Movement (MXVPS) in gathering petition signatures. By the end of the 2010, we were joined by CREDO, Care2, Change.org, Salve a Selva and RAN and had reached our initial goal, but we realized that wasn't enough. So we kept going...

Soon after the inauguration of Brazil's newly elected and first woman President, Dilma Rousseff, the warning signs of the partial installation license being issued by IBAMA – Brazil's Environmental Protection Agency – were getting hotter. Under pressure by the Dam consortium to issue the license, the president of IBAMA Abelardo Bayma, resigned in mid-January. It was at this time that Avaaz – a global web movement – joined the movement to stop the Belo Monte Dam and petition signatures from around the world started coming in.

In late January, the Brazilian government "illegally" issued a partial installation license. I say "illegally" because a partial installation license doesn't exist in Brazilian law, only an installation license which can only be approved unless social and environmental conditions are met. The Federal Public Ministry (MPF) has filed claims against the government and BNDES –Brazil's Public Bank- for moving ahead without fully addressing over 40 social and environmental conditions, but unfortunately that doesn't mean that NESA – the Dam consortium – will respect this.

In response, the MXVPS decided to mobilize to Brasilia to send a clear message of opposition to the Belo Monte Dam Complex to President Dilma and soon the message began to spread, "Come to Brasilia on February 8 to protest the Belo Monte Dam and plans for over 60 hydroelectric projects in the Amazon. Thousands of petition signatures will be delivered." As soon as the word was out, people on the ground, in Brazil and internationally started mobilizing. Petition signatures, mostly Brazilian, were flooding Avaaz's site by the second. A week before the delivery we had approximately 400,000 signatures. A week later, we had over 600,000.

To me, this symbolizes the power of international solidarity. To the indigenous and riverbank communities who live and depend on the Xingu River, it's about survival and resistance for the Xingu and the entire planet.

"This is a life and death struggle," said Sheyla Juruna, one of the delegates who delivered the petitions to the Brazilian government. "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."

Now, let's hope and pray that the Brazilian government responds to the demands of the people of the Xingu River Basin as outlined in a letter, also delivered on Tuesday, and to the global movement concerned about the future of the Amazon and its people. We'll be keeping the pressure on and we'll be counting on you to join us.

Thanks again for signing the global petition to stop the Belo Monte Dam. Please watch and share this video from the frontlines in Brasilia!

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