Brazil’s slaves are being freed, but owners go largely unpunished

January 31, 2014

Tim Padgett – NPR, 01/29/2014

I bought Francisco Lima his first taste of freedom in decades.

A cheeseburger.

It was 2004, and Brazil was starting to confront one of its most distressing problems: slavery. I was in northern Pará state, in the Amazon, observing a special police unit that raided slaveholding farms and firms and liberated workers like the 74-year-old Lima.

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Destruction of Brazil’s Amazon jumps 28%

November 18, 2013

Marco Sibaja – Associated Press, 11/14/2013

Brazil’s government reported Thursday that annual destruction of its Amazon rainforest jumped by 28 percent after four straight years of declines, an increase activists said was linked to recent loosening of the nation’s environmental law meant to protect the jungle.

However, the destruction was still the second-lowest amount of jungle destroyed since Brazil began tracking deforestation in 1988.

The increase in deforestation came in the August 2012 through July 2013 period, the time when Brazil annually measures the destruction of the forest by studying satellite images. The country registered its lowest level of Amazon felling the year before.

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Brazil’s rainforest is going up in smoke. Again.

June 5, 2013

Mac Margolis – Newsweek, 06/05/2013

As Brazil’s skyscrapers and silos rose, it seemed the most impressive quality of this 21st-century Latin American powerhouse was its ability to grow without trashing the environment. Just last year, Brasilia was boasting about a steep decline in deforestation in the Amazon rainforest, a feat that President Dilma Rousseff trumpeted as “impressive, the fruit of social change.” What would she say now?

After nearly a decade of steady decline, forest cutting has spiked again the world’s largest rainforest. The nonprofit Amazon watchdog organization, Imazon, released a study reporting that deforestation at the hands of farmers and ranchers jumped 90 percent in the 12 months since April of last year. And since burning always follows felling, another 88 million tons of carbon dioxide and other gases hit the atmosphere- a 62 percent increase on the year.

For decades, Brazilians were told that ruin in the Amazon was the price of development. But recent research has imploded that assumption. A paper published by the National Academy of Sciences shows that continued deforestation threatens not just the trees but the progress and riches their removal were though to guarantee. The paper bolsters an old theory by Brazilian climate scientist Eneas Salati, who argued that the Amazon actually produced half its own rainfall. The takeaway: remove too much of the forests and the Amazon could dry out. And more than the jungle is at stake. Reduced rainfall from forest cutting could dry up the water that powers hydroelectric dams, thus slashing Brazilian power-generating capacity by 40 percent by mid century. It could also rob the food larder, cutting soybean productivity by 28 percent and beef production by 34 percent.

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Brazil cracks down on illegal mining

May 28, 2013

Al Jazeera, 05/28/2013

Troops deployed in area inhabited by indigenous tribe near border with Venezuela in fight against gold mining.

Brazil’s military is 12 days into its largest ever deployment of troops in the country’s border regions.

The military has sent 25,000 troops to guard the entire border with Venezuela that stretches nearly 17,000km.

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Amazon be damned: deforestation undermines future viability of Brazil’s hydropower projects

May 16, 2013

Erin Brodwin – Scientific American, 05/15/2013

The Amazon Basin is the epicenter of the world’s hydropower plants—the same gushing rains that give the region its lush foliage make it a prime destination for developers seeking to capitalize on this allegedly renewable energy source. But the long-term sustainability of these projects, which use the natural flow of water to generate electricity, is now under scrutiny.

A new study of the Belo Monte Dam, one of the world’s largest hydropower energy complexes currently under construction on the Xingu River in the eastern region of the basin, found that large-scale deforestation in the Amazon poses a significant threat to a dam’s energy-generating potential.

Although many studies have examined the impacts of deforestation on the immediate vicinity of hydropower projects, less attention has been paid to its effects on a regional scale. In fact, earlier studies found that a loss of trees within the water basin of hydropower sites increased the energy-generating capacity of the dam in the short-term, because less trees were available to suck water from the ground and export it outside the watershed in a process known as evapotranspiration.

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Brazil high court orders retrial for rancher convicted of killing US nun who aided Amazon poor

May 16, 2013

The Washington Post/AP, 05/15/2013

Brazil’s Supreme Court has annulled the trial and conviction of a rancher jailed for ordering the 2005 murder of U.S. nun and Amazon defender Dorothy Stang.

In a ruling posted Wednesday, the court said Vitalmiro Moura was not given enough time to prepare his defense in 2010 when he was sentenced to 30 years in prison. The court said Moura will remain behind bars until he his retried at a yet-to be scheduled date.

Also convicted of ordering Stang’s murder is Regivaldo Galvao. Last year, the Supreme Court ordered his release, saying he had the right to remain free pending the outcome of his appeal process. He was sentenced to a 30-year jail term in 2010.

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Total and BP outbid oil rivals for Brazil Amazon coast licenses

May 15, 2013

Rodrigo Orihuela, Juan Pablo Spinetto – Bloomberg, 05/14/2013

BP Plc (BP/) and Total SA (FP), Europe’s biggest oil companies after Royal Dutch Shell Plc (RDSA), won exploration rights in the Amazon basin as Brazil’s first oil auction in five years attracts a record level of bids.

Total, based in Paris, gained exploration access to operate five blocks at the Foz do Amazonas basin in northern Brazil together with partners BP and Petroleo Brasileiro SA, the oil regulator said today. London-based BP won an additional license to operate a block at the same basin in partnership with Petrobras, as the state-controlled oil company is known.

Brazil, home to the largest crude discovery in the Americas in more than 30 years, is holding its first oil exploration round since 2008, attracting more than 60 prospective bidders for a total of 289 blocks in 11 basins. The country is set to break the $1.1 billion record in auctioning licenses, according to Joao Carlos de Luca, the head of the Brazilian Oil Institute.

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Exclusive – Brazil’s Rousseff sides with farmers in Indian land fight

May 15, 2013

Brian Winters, Caroline Stauffer – Reuters, 05/14/2013

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has ordered her government to stop confiscating farmland to create new Indian reservations, government officials say, a policy reversal with major implications for one of the world’s top agricultural producers.

Brazil has in recent decades set aside about 13 percent of its territory for indigenous tribes. Vast additional areas, including prime territory for the production of soy, beef, sugar and other commodities, are under consideration for possible transfer.

That policy has been hailed as one of the world’s most progressive but had caused mounting clashes in recent months as thousands of farmers were evicted from land they had been cultivating, in some cases for decades.

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The rights and wrongs of Belo Monte

May 6, 2013

The Economist, 05/04/2013

The biggest building site in Brazil is neither in the concrete jungle of São Paulo nor in beachside Rio de Janeiro, which is being revamped to host the 2016 Olympics. It lies 3,000km (1,900 miles) north in the state of Pará, deep in the Amazon basin. Some 20,000 labourers are working around the clock at Belo Monte on the Xingu river, the biggest hydropower plant under construction anywhere. When complete, its installed capacity, or theoretical maximum output, of 11,233MW will make it the world’s third-largest, behind China’s Three Gorges and Itaipu, on the border between Brazil and Paraguay.

Everything about Belo Monte is outsized, from the budget (28.9 billion reais, or $14.4 billion), to the earthworks—a Panama Canal-worth of soil and rock is being excavated—to the controversy surrounding it. In 2008 a public hearing in Altamira, the nearest town, saw a government engineer cut with a machete. In 2010 court orders threatened to stop the auction for the project. The private-sector bidders pulled out a week before. When officials from Norte Energia, the winning consortium of state-controlled firms and pension funds, left the auction room, they were greeted by protesters—and three tonnes of pig muck.

Since then construction has twice been halted briefly by legal challenges. Greens and Amerindians often stage protests. Xingu Vivo (“Living Xingu”), an anti-Belo Monte campaign group, displays notes from supporters all over the world in its Altamira office. James Cameron, a Hollywood film-maker, has chimed in to compare Brazil’s dam-builders to the villains in “Avatar”, one of his blockbusters.

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Amazon.com to battle governments of Brazil and Peru for the .Amazon domain

April 26, 2013

POPSCI, 04/26/2013

In 2011, ICANN, the organization in charge of the internet’s domain names,decided to open up the field and expand the list of domains from the typical .com, .net, and country codes out to, well, pretty much anything. We knew we’d see some battles over the new domains, but one of the first is an interesting case: .amazon.

Web and content giant Amazon has been making big moves lately, moving into original content with its own version of television pilot season as well as a persistent rumor that the company is working on its own set-top box to compete with Roku, Apple TV, and Xbox. And Amazon has already attempted to get generic domains like .book and .author (which hasn’t sat well with book publishers). So it makes sense that the company would want to lock down its domain future with the .amazon domain; it’d be convenient to go to tv.amazon or store.amazon or kindle.amazon, and Amazon certainly doesn’t want some other company to snap it up and confuse people.

But what if the competition for the domain isn’t a company, but a coalition of governments?

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