Brazil must stop boom in rain-forest destruction

This editorial appeared in the Miami Herald.

Just over a month ago, Brazilian President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva signed a decree creating a fund that seeks donations from developed countries to protect the Amazon rain forest and combat global warming. None too soon it turns out.

Last week, Brazilian officials acknowledged that after three years marked by notable reductions in tree-cutting, deforestation has accelerated. Actually, accelerated hardly covers it. Try raced: Deforestation has increased 228 percent from this time last year.

Brazilian officials blame the increase on lax policing in the Amazon region by mayors running for re-election. Cracking down on people who cut trees and clear the land isn't politically popular, apparently. International environmental groups, however, blame the increase on the worldwide hike in food prices. Amazon farmers want more land to grow more cash crops and livestock.

Whatever the cause, the country should put a stop to the speeded-up destruction by increasing law enforcement in the region and creating more alternative job opportunities for would-be deforesters and farmers.

Traditionally, Brazil has told the rest of the world to mind its own business when it came to the fate of the Amazon rain forest. But if da Silva is serious about soliciting other countries' financial assistance to preserve the unique ecosystem, he must first prove that there will be enough of it left to make the investment worthwhile.

The Amazon rain forest is vast, bigger than Western Europe. Though Colombia and Peru host some of the Amazon, Brazil has the lion's share — 60 percent. Of that 60 percent, some 20 percent has been destroyed. Brazil should take immediate steps to curb deforestation, then ask other nations for money to save the rain forest for good.