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Brazil's new environment minister to tackle fears over Amazon

British charity 'bewildered' by Amazon inquiry: spokesman
British-based environmental group Cool Earth said on Tuesday it was "bewildered" by reports that its co-founder was being investigated by Brazilian authorities over comments he made about the Amazon. The O Globo newspaper reported on Monday that Brazilian police and intelligence services were investigating Cool Earth's millionaire co-founder Johan Eliasch -- a British-Swedish national -- for comments he allegedly made claiming that all of the Amazon could be bought for 50 billion dollars. Brazil's new Environment Minister Carlos Minc said he was shocked by the report, and that one of his first acts in his new post would be to open an inquiry into the matter. "It's bewildering because we do not own any lands in Amazonas, we fund various protection projects through our partners," Cool Earth Director Matthew Owen told AFP. He added that Cool Earth had received "no information" about an inquiry in Brazil. "We are aware it's been announced in the press but we've had no information whatsoever ... We are a quite high profile charity and we've done a great deal in a year to channel funds into conservation and protection," Owen said. "The ownership of the Amazon is a very politicised topic and understandably the government wants to understand what all players are doing. "We are successful in bringing ... funding in the Amazon protection but there is no evidence whatsoever that we infringed any regulations." A source close to Eliasch, the 46-year-old boss of the Head sports equipment company and an environmental adviser to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, claimed the investigation was started to "whip up nationalism for political purposes." According to Owen, Cool Earth doesn't "own any land in Amazonas, we fund conservation projects but we are not interested in owning lands which we think would be an inappropriate use of a UK-based charity." He said that around 32,000 hectares of land were "protected" by funds provided by Cool Earth in Brazil and Ecuador, and added that the group was looking at funding similar projects in Peru. The source close to Eliasch estimated that around 70 percent of the Amazon was owned by the Brazilian federal government, with 20 percent owned by indigenous tribes and the remainder in private hands. At a 2006 conference, the source said, Eliasch had linked deforestation in the Amazon with storms in the Gulf of Mexico, which cost insurers 75 billion dollars, and suggested that the Amazon could be preserved for around a third of that cost.
by Staff Writers
Brasilia (AFP) May 27, 2008
Brazil's new environment minister, Carlos Minc, took up his functions Tuesday in a government increasingly split over how to balance preservation and development in the Amazon rainforest.

Minc, the 56-year-old former environment secretary for the state of Rio de Janeiro, replaces a greatly respected minister, Marina Silva, who unexpectedly stepped down early this month after losing a series of inter-ministry fights over the future of the Amazon.

His nomination was seen as part of an effort by President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to restore confidence in Brazil's ecological credentials generally and its management of the Amazon specifically.

Lula said he has known Minc for 30 years.

"This means that the government's environmental policy will not change, and it is the same one that was in the program that helped me win the elections," he said.

The Amazon, a vast jungle which covers nearly half the surface of Brazil and also stretches into Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru and Venezuela, has suffered increasing deforestation in recent months.

Lula's government has tightened environmental protection laws and mounted police operations against illegal loggers, ranchers and soya farmers.

But it has also started emphasizing the need for economic development in the Amazon, drawn by the skyhigh prices fetched for commodities and food.

Some foreign politicians, particularly in Britain, have suggested that conservation of the area -- sometimes called the "lungs of the Earth" for its role in absorbing carbon dioxide -- was much too important to be left to Brazil.

That prompted Lula to say Monday that "the Brazilian Amazon has an owner, and that owner is the Brazilian people."

Minc will have to walk a thin line between asserting his environmental policies and maintaining communication with other ministries that hold great influence over the Amazon.

For instance, he will have no control over an ambitious sustainable development plan whose execution Lula has left up to his strategic affairs minister, Roberto Mangabeira Unger.

Marcelo Furtado, a representative for Greenpeace in Brazil, said Minc's first task, though, would be to "rescue the legitimacy of the environment ministry" that he said left with Silva.

"There is a question in the air about Brazil's ability to recover its environmental management. Confidence in Brazil's ability won't come back through speeches but through concrete action in the Amazon," Furtado said.

He added that he believed Lula was less than committed to protecting the Amazon, likening environmental issues to "a stone in the shoe" for the president.

A lobbyist for the Amazon, Alberto Cantanhede of the Amazonian Workgroup, said he believed Minc's first problem would be to wrest some of the decision-making power back from Mangabeira Unger.

But he will also have to "marry ideas for environmental protection, sustainable development and economic growth, which the former minister didn't manage to do."

Cantanhede rejected the argument that Brazil was incapable of looking after the Amazon, saying: "We certainly are (capable) -- and that's why the Amazon is still here."

earlier related report
A Swedish-born tycoon who acts as a deforestation advisor to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has stirred up controversy in Brazil for reportedly claiming all the Amazon could be bought for 50 billion dollars.

Johan Eliasch, the 46-year-old boss of the Head sports equipment company, is under investigation by Brazilian police and intelligence services for the alleged comments and for 160,000 hectares (395,000 acres) of Amazon forest he is believed to have bought, the newspaper O Globo reported Monday.

He reportedly made the assertions to stimulate land acquisition as part of his role as director of Cool Earth, an organization he co-founded which finds sponsors for the rainforest as a way of protecting it.

"Eliasch held meetings with businessmen between 2006 and 2007 in which he proposed that they buy land in the Amazon, and told them 'only' 50 billion dollars would be needed to acquire all the forest," according to a report by Brazil's Abin intelligence agency cited by O Globo.

The issue is a sensitive one for Brazil, which has been offended by statements by British politicians suggesting that the Amazon is too important to all of mankind to be left to the management of Brazil's government alone.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on Monday stated that "the Brazilian Amazon has an owner, and that owner is the Brazilian people."

He told a gathering in Rio de Janeiro that while he was conscious of the need to conserve the forest, "there is also need to develop the Amazon."

Brasilia has been progressively tightening laws aimed at protecting the huge forest by cracking down on illegal ranchers, farmers and loggers, and stepping up vigilance against foreigners looking to exploit its biodiversity.

Eliasch, who lives in London and has an estimated net worth of 790 million dollars, stopped being a significant donor to Britain's conservative party last September. He switched allegiance to Brown's Labour Party, apparently winning his special consulting post in the process.

Although Cool Earth has generally received positive evaluations in Britain and the United States, some accuse the organization of embarking on "green colonialism" and compounding the problems of indigenous groups living in the Amazon.

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The Amazon for sale for 50 bln dollars? Not in Brazil's book
Rio De Janeiro (AFP) May 26, 2008
A Swedish-born tycoon who acts as a special deforestation advisor to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has stirred up controversy in Brazil for reportedly claiming all the Amazon could be bought for 50 billion dollars.

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