From: Vivian Sequera, Associated Press
Published March 15, 2007 12:00 AM

Activists Promise No-Holds-Barred Fight over Brazil River Project

BRASILIA, Brazil -- Activists on Wednesday vowed to fight to stop a huge river-diversion project meant to benefit millions by irrigating large sections of Brazil's arid northeast.

The US$2 billion (euro1.5 billion) project will create a new channel for the 1,600-mile (2,700 kilometer) Sao Francisco River, Brazil's fourth-largest, to irrigate the arid Sertao region. The government says that changing river's course will benefit some 12 million poor people.

But the project, which was first proposed in 1886, has been criticized as too costly and as damaging to the environment. Critics say the diversion would speed the river's flow toward the ocean and could cause it to dry up during parts of the year.

"Our struggle hasn't just begun, it has been going on for many years and we will not stop ... we promise to fight the project," said Alexander Goncalves, a member of the Popular Articulations for the Defense of the Sao Francisco, an umbrella group uniting more than 300 organizations of peasants, church groups, indigenous peoples and others.

Goncalves was the spokesman for 15 activists who met with Environment Minister Marina Silva Wednesday in an attempt to stop the project.

Work on the diversion can begin as soon as Brazil's environmental protection agency, Ibama, issues a license declaring the project is environmentally viable. No one has said when the license might be issued, but activists believe it imminent.

Minister Silva said in a statement she would not intervene in the decisions of Ibama, disappointing activists.

"We didn't get the support of the minister with relations to our demand which is to suspend the project ... it only confirmed our suspicion: there is no room for dialogue with the government," Goncalves said.

Goncalves did not describe what type of action could be employed.

Source: Associated Press

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