Brazil is preparing a controversial plan to develop parts of the Amazon and shed the idea of the area being a “sanctuary,” even as warnings mount over the threat of deforestation to the vast and important zone.
Two ministers offered contrasting evaluations of the Amazon on Wednesday in declarations that underlined the struggle between competing interests inside Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s government.
Strategic Affairs Minister Roberto Mangabeira Unger told congress that a development plan was being readied that would finish with the “wrong idea” that the Amazon “can be kept as a sanctuary for mankind’s enjoyment without productive activity.”
At the same time, Environment Minister Carlos Minc was issuing a warning to reporters that the destruction of the Amazon has picked up since the beginning of the year despite government efforts to curb it.
Figures to be released next Monday by the Brazilian Institute for Spatial Research “are going to show a rise,” he said, adding that the central state of Mato Grosso accounted for more than 60 percent of the new deforestation.
The wrestling between those who want to see Brazil’s economic development include the Amazon and others that want to conserve the world’s biggest forest has reached a new intensity.
Last week, Minc was named to take over the environment ministry after his greatly respected predecessor, Marina Silva, resigned unexpectedly after a long series of defeats against other ministries wanting to turn the Amazon into an economic, not ecological, prize.
Minc has signaled he intends to pursue Silva’s policies, and has received backing from Lula for an idea to have the army patrol the Amazon and defend it against illegal loggers, soya farmers and cattle ranchers.
But Unger’s detailing of a Sustainable Development Plan, floated by the government two weeks ago, suggested the new environment minister would also have an uphill battle.
The Amazon, Unger told lawmakers in Brasilia, is not only “the biggest collection of plants on the planet” but also “a group of people.”
“If the 25 million people who live in the Amazon don’t get economic opportunities, they will be pushed toward disorganized activity that will result in deforestation,” he said.
“An environmentalism lacking an economic plan would be counterproductive environmentalism,” he said.