Brazil's president: 'gringos' must pay to stop deforestation
Brazil's president said "gringos" should pay Amazon nations to prevent deforestation.
Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva insisted rich Western nations had caused much more past environmental destruction than the loggers and farmers who cut and burn trees in the world's largest tropical rain forest.
The president made the comments just before an Amazon summit in which delegates signed a declaration calling for financial help from the industrial world to halt the deforestation that causes global warming.
"I don't want any gringo asking us to let an Amazon resident die of hunger under a tree," Mr da Silva said.
"We want to preserve, but they will have to pay the price for this preservation because we never destroyed our forest like they mowed theirs down a century ago."
In Brazil, the word "gringo" does not only mean American, but generally refers to anyone from the northern hemisphere.
Mr da Silva convened the meeting to form a unified position on deforestation and climate change for seven Amazon nations before the December 7-18 Copenhagen climate summit.
But the only leaders who attended were Guyana's Bharrat Jagdeo and France's Nicolas Sarkozy, representing French Guiana, prompting top da Silva aides and environmentalists to admit the gathering will have a muted impact.
Other nations sent vice presidents or ministers and the presidents of Colombia and Venezuela embarrassed Brazil by cancelling at the last minute.
French president Nicolas Sarkozy supported a recent proposal by Mr da Silva to create a financial transaction tax that would be used to build a fund to help developing nations protect their forests. Details will be discussed in Copenhagen.
Despite the lacklustre summit showing, da Silva aides said it was important to drive home a message that the Amazon was home to 30 million people, most of whom depended on the forest's natural riches to eke out a living.
About 25 million live in Brazil's portion, which has about 60% of the Amazon, an area larger than western Europe.
"In Europe everyone has opinions about the Amazon, and there are people who think the Amazon is a zoo where you have to pay to enter," said Marco Aurelio Garcia, Mr da Silva's top foreign policy adviser.
"They don't know there are 30 million who work there."
Brazil has managed to reduce Amazon destruction to about 2,702 square miles a year, the lowest level in decades. But that is still larger than the US state of Delaware.
The Brazilian Amazon is arguably the world's biggest natural defence against global warming, acting as an absorber of carbon dioxide. But it is also a big contributor to warming because about 75% of Brazil's emissions come from rainforest clearing as vegetation burns and felled trees rot.