February 11, 1999
Brazil suspends issuing of Amazon clearing permits

                  BRASILIA (Reuters) -- Brazil said on Thursday it was suspending all new
                  permits for clearing land in the Amazon River basin, a day after reporting
                  that the rate at which the world's biggest rain forest is being destroyed
                  jumped nearly 30 percent last year.

                  The Environment Ministry said it would review all existing permits to cut
                  down trees in the region, pursue irregularities in court and compile a list of
                  cleared areas covering more than about 5,000 acres (2,000 hectares),
                  where it would "intervene immediately" to fight the "champions of

                  The announcement was made in a statement, and no one was available for
                  comment at the ministry.

                  But an official at the Brazilian Environment Institute, which is responsible for
                  overseeing the Amazon, told Reuters the move was a response to
                  preliminary data, announced on Wednesday, showing that an area more than
                  half the size of Belgium -- 6,500 square miles (16,800 square km) -- was
                  totally cleared in 1998.

                  "This might help slow down the rate of deforestation," said the official, who
                  asked not to be named. "It will depend on how long the suspension lasts and
                  whether the government really brings people breaking the law to book."

                  The Brazilian government has announced an array of measures over the last
                  few years in a bid to bring the destruction of the Amazon region under
                  control, but to little effect.

                  The latest move comes just a few weeks after Jose Sarney Filho, the son of
                  a former president, took over the Environment Ministry with promises to
                  come to grips with deforestation.

                  The figures announced on Wednesday represented a 27 percent increase
                  from 1997 -- when the equivalent of 5,000 soccer fields of jungle were lost
                  every day, according to one estimate -- but were slightly lower than in 1996.

                  The 1998 figures, however, did not include damage from the massive fires
                  that raged between January and March in Roraima state on Brazil's border
                  with Venezuela, destroying as much as 4,250 square miles (11,000 square
                  km) of forest and savanna, according to separate government estimates.

                  Environmental groups, speaking before Thursday's announcement by the
                  Environment Ministry, said the numbers showed Brazil had to act quickly to
                  stop deforestation from soaring.

                  "We weren't surprised at the numbers," said Garo Batmanian, executive
                  director of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

                  He said several anti-deforestation measures announced amid fanfare by the
                  government had been implemented only partially or not at all.

                  A plan announced by President Fernando Henrique Cardoso last April to
                  protect 10 percent of the Amazon rain forest has been put on hold after
                  $300,000 in World Bank funding was delayed by Brazilian government

                  "But the real problem is that the policy-makers have not yet understood that
                  the environment has to be a factor in all its policies," Batmanian said.

                  "There's no point in the environment minister flying about in a helicopter to
                  crack down on deforestation if the land reform minister is settling landless
                  people right in the middle of the jungle," he said.

                  Joao Paulo Capobianco, executive secretary of the Socio-environmental
                  Institute in Sao Paulo, said deforestation might rise again in 1999, since
                  Brazil last year relaxed rules on the use of fire to clear land and reduced the
                  amount of land farmers must keep as nature preserves.

                  Those changes were made in August and November, so their impact will be
                  felt fully this year, Capobianco said.

                  "As well as failing to control deforestation, the government is taking
                  measures that actually contradict its attempts to preserve the Amazon," he

                     Copyright 1999 Reuters.