Brazil's State Legislatures Debate Internationalization of the Amazon

MANAUS, Brazil, May 18, 2006 (ENS) - The 10th National Conference of State Legislatures of Brazil is debating charges that the Amazon is being internationalized by the presence of numerous nongovernmental organizations.

State deputies from various regions in Brazil and experts on the Amazon are gathered in Manaus for the event, which is sponsored by the National Union of State Legislatures (UNALE), according to the official state news agency Agencia Brasil.

According to UNALE president, José Cardoso Távora, the choice of Manaus to host the conference was a strategic one for raising the issue of the risk of the region's internationalization.


Deputy José Cardoso Távora, president of UNALE, serves in the Legislative Assembly of Rio de Janeiro state. (Photo courtesy Office of the Deputy)
Capital of Amazonas State in northwest Brazil, Manaus is located on the Negro River near its confluence with the Amazon. It is the chief port and a hub for the region's extensive river system. Trade in timber and Brazil nuts today replace a declining rubber industry, and tourists flock to see the great diversity of wildlife in the region.

"Among the wealth of topics of vital interest to state legislatures, we want to discuss the national security of one of the states with the greatest resource endowments in the country and question the purpose of the presence of 3,600 nongovernmental organizations in the region," Távora said.

The idea that Brazil's Amazon rainforest, the largest in the world, is coveted by the international community because its drinking water and forest resources are seen as collective public goods, is a recurring fear in Brazil.

In their desire to help protect the world's largest rainforest, environmental groups have raised the fear of foreign interference. State legislators worry that the international community believes it can do a better job of managing Brazil's natural resources than the governments of Brazil.


Rough roads are opening up the Amazon rainforest. (Photo by Wigold Schaffer courtesy Ministry of the Environment Brazil)
During the conference the military commander of the Amazon region, General Cláudio Barbosa Figueiredo, will give a talk entitled "Amazônia - Patrimony of Brazil," in which he will warn of the foreign intervention risks the country faces.

At the end of the conference, which began yesterday and runs through Friday, the participants intend to draft a Letter from Manaus, which will be delivered to the candidates in this year's presidential race.

For their part, many environmentalists regard the Amazon as a world resource that must be preserved because its rich biodiversity is of global importance.

Brazil contains the planet’s widest range of plant species. One-sixth of all the world’s birds live there, an eighth of all amphibians, and one in every 11 mammals. Five thousand different kinds of trees grow in the Amazon, by comparison North America has 650 different trees.About 20 percent of the fresh water entering the oceans comes from the Amazon.

Two-thirds of the 2.7 million square mile extent of the Amazon basin is within Brazil's borders.

The Amazon is being plundered by illegal gold miners, by deforestation at a rate of over five million acres per year, and the peace is disturbed by land use conflicts between the indigenous people and more recent settlers.

Some of the largest nongovernmental organizations operating in the Brazilian Amazon are branches of international organizations and operate as autonomous, non-profit Brazilian civil society organizations.

Established in 1996, WWF-Brazil acts nationwide with the mission of contributing to a Brazilian society that conserves its natural environment, harmonizing human activity with the preservation of biodiversity and the sustainable use of natural resources, to the benefit of the citizens of today and of future generations.

Headquartered in the capital, Brasilia, WWF-Brazil has regional offices in Rio Branco in Acre state, Alto Paraíso in the state of Goiás, Corumbá and Campo Grande in Mato Grosso do Sul, as well as São Paulo and Macapá in Amapá state.


Today Greenpeace Brazil demonstrated against clearing of the Amazon rainforest for plantations of soy used for chicken feed. (Photo courtesy GP Brazil)
Greenpeace Brazil is an autonomous branch of the international environmental organization and is constantly demonstrating against destruction of the Amazon. The latest Greenpeace Brazil campaign is against clearing the forest for soy plantations. Soy is a leading Brazilian export product, and some of the soy production is used to feed chickens slaughtered for the fast food industry.

Today Greenpeace took two people in seven foot high chicken costumes bearing protest banners to visit the granary ship terminal of the North American multinational Cargill in Santarém, on board inflatable boats. Greenpeace says Cargill is responsible for the expansion of soy agriculture in western Pará state.

On May 11, Greenpeace activist and parachuting champion Sabia, jumped over a large deforested area near Santarém with a banner reading "100% Crime" to protest the clearcutting of the Amazon to plant soy for chicken feed.