Lula: Tree-Hugger He Isn’t

Lula: Tree-Hugger He Isn't

Is Lula becoming the nightmare of ecologists? In a visit to the
Amazon, the Brazilian
President lamented how the Amazon has
not received investments over the years in the name of
He made fun of ecologists saying that the Amazon is not
something untouchable or from
another world.


Rodolf Salm


"It may be necessary to impede the disordered ambition of the inhabitants who have by iron and fire devastated the
precious forests, which once were in abundance and now today are considerably at a far distance." These were the words of the
colonial government that established a strict prohibition against cutting forests. It was written at the end of the drought of 1791-1792, which greatly devastated the north of Brazil from Bahia to Ceará.

Two centuries later, "the formation of an inter-ministerial working group to study means of controlling
deforestation" has been the most that the Lula government has been able to do up until now. This announcement falls on the heels of
Inpe’s (Institute of Spacial Research) study that shows that deforestation of the Amazon between August 2001 and August
2002 was nearly 25,500 km², 40 percent more than the previous year.

But the bigger worries come from President Lula’s trip to the Amazon where he participated in the "Festa do Boi"
(The Party of the Bull) of Parintins. There, he lamented how the Amazon has not received investments over the years in the
name of preservation. He said that Amazon cannot be treated as "something from another world, something untouchable."

In a populist style, the President took the occasion to promise electrical transmission lines from Tucuruí to Parintins.
"Lovers will be able to hug and kiss with lights on, which is not always good but sometimes necessary," joked the President.
"It’s about time that people can take a hot shower if they want, even in a region as hot as the Amazon. Not to live in the dark
is as fundamental as having three meals a day." He went on to criticize intellectuals [involved in rainforest studies], and
said they should take their inspiration from the creativity of the people of the Amazon.

I don’t understand the critique. Lula is suggesting that intellectuals stop worrying about the government and go out
dressed as indigenous to dance the Boi? Clearly, anyone with a minimal understanding of the region cannot think of the Amazon
as "untouchable." Such an Amazon no longer exists. What Lula made was a demoralizing caricature of those that
understand the gravity of the situation of the Amazonian deforestation and the preoccupation with the consequences.

The Amazon is not "something from another world," but it is in fact, especially in its areas most inaccessible,
another world, outside the borders of capitalism. It is also the biggest reserve of bio-diversity of the Earth, and thus has prime
importance for the global systems of atmospheric circulation and holds in itself so much carbon that its destruction would
profoundly affect the climate of the planet, with terrible results for humanity.

Besides this, if, as Lula said, it is worse to "hug and kiss with the lights on," why then is it "necessary?" To allow
people to have hot showers in a region as hot as the Amazon is as fundamental as three meals a day? If "Zero Cold Shower" is
as equally important as " Zero Hunger" (the President’s plan to end hunger in the nation), then it seems the government has
lost its notion of priorities for the region.

Lula was born in Garanhuns, in the arid region of Pernambuco. The
sertanejo (person from this region) as defined
by writer Euclides da Cunha, is before anything else a strong person worried about a future which always threatens. In this
dry northeast region, with all of its horrors of droughts and cruel combats with the dry earth, the struggle for life has a
"savage character."

Lula then left this area and later received his professional and political formation in São Paulo, where an ample
supply of electrical energy is fundamental for industrial development; and economic development is a necessity because
recession generates unemployment, hunger and violence. It is for this reason today that one has fear of the dark and to "hug and
kiss with the lights on" is a real necessity.

Certainly the people of the Amazon want hot showers, washing machines and cable TV. But, besides electricity,
transmission lines will also bring to Parintins degradation through subsequent deforestation, violence, malaria, and a
deepening of social inequities.

The President is wrong to say that there is a richness in the festivities and happiness of the people of Parintins
despite its isolation in the forest. It is exactly because of its isolation this richness exists in an area which is still preserved, still
generous, still welcoming, different from the Northeast.

It seems the new government is ill-prepared to deal with the preservation of the Amazon, and that Lula will not be
the President who will help to avoid the 50 percent destruction of the remaining Amazon as predicted by Inpa (Institute of
Research of the Amazon). It seems in fact that civilization will advance in the forest impelled by a history in which the strong
conquer the weak.

But still there is something to commend for at least in this government the shocking facts revealed by Inpe have
been published. Facts which show that numbers from the Fernando Henrique Cardoso government were distorted to actually
indicate a fall in the rate of deforestation. Thus there is hope that the current government may find a way to preserve the Amazon.

One step towards this preservation is to stop all cutting for four years, a period in which "effective controls and
inspections, together with space technology, may be created," as proposed by Emilio Goeldi and the International
Conservation of Brazil. It is a moratorium on deforestation, already baptized by Greenpeace as "Zero Deforestation."

Rodolfo Salm holds a doctorate in ecology and natural resources from the Federal University of São Carlos and is a
researcher for the Pinkaiti Aldeia A’Ukre. Your message may be sent to  

This material was published in Portuguese by Correio da Cidadania


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