Brazilian President to Open UN General Assembly Speeches

Gale Courey Toensing
9/19/11

The president of Brazil will be the first woman ever to open the United Nations General Assembly debate among world leaders on Wednesday, September 21, at the world organization’s 66th session, Merco Press reported.

President Dilma Rousseff was the first woman elected as leader of South America’s largest country -- and largest economy -- last October, succeeding reformist President Lula da Silva.
“On the 21st, the President becomes the first woman since the foundation of the United Nations to address, with her speech, the opening of the General Assembly,” the Brazilian Foreign Affairs ministry said in the report.

Roussef began her almost week-long U.N. activities on Monday at a special summit on chronic diseases chaired by the former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, the report said. Bachelet is currently the first Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, which was established on 2 July 2010 by the United Nations General Assembly to work on gender equality and the empowerment of women at global, regional and country levels. More than 30 heads of state and government and at least 100 other senior ministers and experts were scheduled to attend the two-day high-level General Assembly meeting for a discussion of a draft declaration calling for a multi-pronged campaign by governments, industry and civil society to set up plans by 2012 to curb risk factors behind the four groups of non-communicable diseases -- cardiovascular diseases, cancers, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes.

While efforts by Roussef and other world leaders to curb chronic non-communicable diseases progress, Brazil’s Belo Monte Dam Project – a massive hydroelectric project in the Amazon approved by Roussef’s administration in June -- is drawing more concerns over potential adverse health effects, particularly on the indigenous peoples of the region, but also on the global climate. The dam will flood more than 120,000 acres of the Brazilian rainforest along the Xingu River, a tributary of the Amazon where members of the region’s 24 indigenous tribes live, destroying local settlements and displacing between 20,000 and 40,000 mostly indigenous people. The flooding will destroy a large swath of the Amazon rainforest. Rainforests are called “the lungs of the earth” for their ability to store carbon and battle climate change.

In a September 19 article on the Huffington Post, Philip M. Fearnside, a researcher with the National Institute for Amazon Research in Manaus, Brazil, indicated that the hydroelectric dam, which will be the world's third largest, may release into the atmosphere significant quantities of methane, a greenhouse gas more potent than CO2. The dam will create a massive reservoir with rotting plant matter along its bottom that will release the greenhouse gas, creating a "methane factory," Fearnside explained to Deutsche Welle.

Last month, thousands of people demonstrated in 17 countries around the world, following protests in 15 Brazilian cities, to urge Roussef’s administration “to end its assault on the forests and the people of the Amazon,” according to Amazon Watch. The demonstrators called on the government to immediately halt the Belo Monte Dam, a $17 billion project that will divert nearly the entire flow of the Xingu River along a 62-mile stretch.

"These protests solidify our calls to revoke the approval of the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam. Once it is revoked, it will be possible to carry out public consultations to insure the rights of communities who are directly threatened," said organizer Marco Antonio Morgado of the Brazilian Forests Movement, according to the report. Critics of the dam urged Dilma to use the money to invest in truly renewable energy from wind and solar along with improving energy efficiency, the report said.

Like the protests and revolutions in North Africa and the Middle East, the Belo Monte Dam protests were organized through social media on the Internet. "This is a new chapter in the struggle to defend the Amazon, and everyday more people are getting involved," said Christian Poirier, Brazil Program Coordinator at Amazon Watch. "The Dilma Rousseff government is at crossroads. The world is calling on her to demonstrate courage and leadership and take immediate actions to safeguard the Amazon for future generations."

Meanwhile, at the UN Rousseff with have a private meeting with UN Secretary Ban Ki-Moon on Wednesday before opening the round of speeches at the 66th General Assembly, according to Merco Press. “The president is drafting a wide ranging and incisive speech in which she will defend social inclusion and human rights guarantees,” the independent news agency in Brazil said.

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