Brazilian President, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, said that Brazil's booming ethanol business won't hurt the Amazon rain forest, dismissing worldwide criticism that the alternate fuel could cause deforestation in the Amazon region.
Responding to concerns raised during his European visit last week, Lula said it is unjustified to think that increased production of sugar cane for ethanol could prompt more jungle clearing.
He said that Amazon weather conditions aren't favorable for the sugar cane used to produce ethanol and suggested unnamed enemies are trying to prevent Brazil from advancing economically by taking advantage of rising demand for biofuels.
"The Portuguese discovered a long time ago that the Amazon isn't a place to plant cane," said Lula adding that "The cartel of the world's powerful is trying to prevent Brazil from developing, trying to prevent Brazil from being transformed into a great nation."
While there are few sugarcane-ethanol plantations in the Amazon, environmentalists have voiced concerns that a global ethanol boom could accelerate rain forest destruction if trees are cleared to make room for crops.
Some soy plantations in central Brazil are being transformed to sugarcane ethanol operations and environmentalists say that could lead soy farmers to move into the Amazon for their crop, which is also in high demand worldwide, particularly in China.
Cuba's Fidel Castro and Venezuela's Hugo Chávez have irked Brazilians by arguing that ethanol production would cause hunger by shifting food crops to energy use, an allegation Lula denies. But they have not focused on environmental complaints.
Brazilian ethanol makers produced 17 billion liters last year, and exported 3.4 billion liters. Billions of dollars are pouring into the nation to increase production.
Brazil is the world's No. 1 sugar producer and exporter, and the leading exporter of ethanol made from sugarcane. It also is the world's second-largest ethanol producer, trailing the United States, and is ramping up production of soybean-based bio-diesel.
Eight of every 10 new cars in Brazil are "flex-fuel" models that can run on ethanol, gasoline or any combination of the two. Ethanol is about half the price of gasoline in Brazil.
The Brazilian president also criticized US and European tariffs on Brazilian ethanol, suggesting the United States and Europe won't be able to wean themselves from dependency on oil unless the trade barriers are lifted.
"It's funny because they charge taxes on our ethanol, they charge on our biodiesel, but they don't charge for oil," Lula said.
The bulk of the world's largest remaining tropical wilderness is in the Amazon, which covers nearly 60% of Brazil, or about 4.1 million square kilometers.
About 20% of the rain forest has already been cut down and while the rate of destruction has slowed in recent years, environmentalists say it remains alarmingly high.
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