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BRAZIL: Soap Opera Actors Stand Up for Amazon Jungle

Mario Osava

RIO DE JANEIRO, Feb 28 2007 (IPS) - An open letter demanding "an immediate halt to the deforestation of the Amazon jungle" has been released by Brazilian television stars taking part in the Globo Network series " Amaz- nia, de Galvez a Chico Mendes" (Amazonia, from Galvez to Chico Mendes).

"Article 225 of the constitution states that the Amazon forest shall only be used in conditions that &#39ensure the preservation of the environment,&#39 and this should be enforced," said Cristiane Torloni, who plays the part of a Spanish dancer in the first part of the series.

"Brazil already has enough deforested areas to produce crops and livestock for domestic consumption and export, without the need for the destruction of more forestland," Torloni told foreign correspondents at a press conference on Tuesday, accompanied by Víctor Fasano, another "Amazonia" actor.

These two, along with famous fellow-actor Juca de Oliveira, decided to issue their "manifesto" after seeing with their own eyes "the hundreds of kilometres of abandoned deforested areas" in the northwestern state of Acre, the location where many scenes of the series were filmed, starting last August.

The petition was posted on a web site in late January and has already collected over 200,000 signatures. The target is to obtain one million signatures, and then send it to President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Torloni said.

"Amazonia, from Galvez to Chico Mendes" tells the story of Acre, a 153,150-square-km territory that initially belonged to Bolivia, and was annexed by Brazil in 1903 after its occupation by Brazilian "seringueiros" (rubber tappers), who mounted a rebellion to make it part of their country.

Although it is called a "mini-series" in Brazil, "Amazonia" consists of 55 episodes, written by Gloria Perez who has authored many soap operas for Globo, and who was born in Acre. The series is being aired from Jan. 2 through early April.

The first part focuses on the struggles for the conquest of Acre from 1899, when Brazil&#39s Amazon region was at the height of prosperity due to exports of natural rubber from the "seringueira" or rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis), a large Amazonian tree from which latex, the raw material for rubber, is extracted.

But the trees were exported to commercial plantations in Malaysia, which were so productive that they put an end to the period of Amazonian wealth.

The second part of the story, after leaping a century, concerns the environmental and social struggles led by Chico Mendes, leader of the seringueiros and other "forest peoples", who was murdered in December 1988.

Mendes, now widely regarded as an environmental martyr, created extractive reserves, where the natural resources of the Amazon are exploited without deforestation and in harmony with the rainforest.

The "Brazilian Artists&#39 Open Letter on the Devastation of the Amazon", which is available on a web site for signature, is the result of actors who already possessed environmental awareness coming into harsh contact with the reality of the Amazon region during the filming, Torloni and Fasano said.

The manifesto was written by de Oliveira, who attempted to start a similar movement in 2005, when he was acting in "Mad Maria", another Globo TV series. This portrayed the tragic saga of laying a railroad in the same Amazonian area a century ago, to fulfil the agreement between Bolivia and Brazil that made Acre Brazilian territory.

"We have no reason to celebrate" just because Brazil has reduced the deforestation rate in the Amazon by half in the last two years, because in 2006 an area of 17,000 square kilometres was deforested, equivalent to almost half of the territory of the Netherlands, says the statement. "We have already destroyed 16 percent of the total rainforest area, which corresponds to twice the size of Germany," it adds.

"We are people with no responsibility at all," the authors of the document complain. Trees hundreds of years old are "monuments to our culture and history" and cannot be treated as "obstacles to progress," it says.

Fasano said he inherited his environmental concerns from his grandmother and his parents. The shock of directly experiencing the violence being done to the Amazon forests gave him a "sense of obligation" to take action, with his colleagues, to "call civil society&#39s attention" to the need to prevent development from destroying the Amazon region.

Fasano served as secretary of Animal Defense and Promotion in the Rio de Janeiro city government in 2005 and 2006. "We want the Amazon intact," he said, arguing that it can support small sustainable development projects, but not huge commercial undertakings that only create environmental and economic disaster, as past experience shows.

The idea of "colonisation and plundering" of the Amazon&#39s natural resources, historically prevalent in the region, must be overcome, said Torloni. She identified "a sickness" in Brazilian society, the symptoms of which are deforestation, urban violence, and people&#39s apathy towards such problems.

The actors coordinating this movement want to "stir people up" and call on them to mobilise by means of the manifesto, and to unite all activists and organisations, including those in other countries, in defence of "standing forests."

The benefits are for humanity as a whole, since the Amazon jungle "is not the lungs of the world, but renders important services to Brazil and to the planet," helping to regulate its temperature, the statement says. It is backed up by the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, for which the United Nations gathered 2,500 scientists from around the world.

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