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Brazilian politics may hamper bid to save Amazon

AP, BELEM, BRAZIL Monday, Feb 02, 2009, Page 7

A global counterculture gathering dedicated partly to preserving the world's rain forests has become a bureaucratic battleground for two Brazilian officials squabbling over what to do with the vast Amazon region. Brazilian Environment Minister Carlos Minc used the World Social Forum that ended yesterday to take shots at Agriculture Minister Reinhold Stephanes, who is accused by environmentalists of encouraging soy and sugar cane plantations that are blamed for much deforestation.

"Our problem is not with agriculture, it is with Minister Stephanes," Environment Minister Carlos Minc told reporters last week at the social forum.

Stephanes countered by saying that "either he Minc understands nothing, or he isn't behaving correctly with me."

The feud forced Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to order the ministers to stop talking about one another in public, leading newspapers reported, citing anonymous aides close Lula.

Minc declined to be interviewed at the forum, while calls to the agriculture ministry were not returned. Stephanes had said in the Brazilian press last week he was through talking about the matter.

At issue is the balance between preservation and economic development in the Amazon, whose survival is crucial in the struggle against global climate change, many climate scientists say.

Environmentalists have long accused Stephanes and Lula of leaning too far toward the expansion of farms that lead to deforestation.

Lula told reporters at the forum that he is pushing for sustainable development of the region, "to work in the correct manner with the forest."

Minc's ministry wants to maintain or toughen a requirement that Amazon landowners leave at least 20 percent of their property as forest. Stephanes wants that rule relaxed.

Greenpeace campaigner Andre Muggiati said a bigger issue is the fight for cash.

"The environment ministry is a weak ministry," he said, noting that the agriculture ministry budget is around US$22 billion a year while that of the environment ministry is someUS$174 million.

"How can the ministry of environment build strong measures for protection when the agriculture ministry right across the street is spending billions in an activity that has a strong impact on the environment?" Muggiati said.

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