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Oil independence

Brazil's Oil Independence May Not Be a Model Worth Emulating

Saturday, September 06, 2008 by: Barbara L. Minton
Tags: oil independence, health news, Natural News

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(NewsTarget) Brazil is having another banner year. It has reached energy equilibrium, exporting as much oil as it imports. Its production of domestic oil is at an all time high, as is the production of sugar based ethanol. At the service stations, ethanol is for sale right along side of the gas pumps. Brazil is also the destination of U.S. lawmakers and venture capitalists looking for America's future. As the by products of Brazil's quest for energy independence become known, it may be time to question the zeal with which some American's seek to emulate this model.

Brazil's military dictatorship launched the national ethanol program in 1975, but ethanol consumption fell sharply as oil prices plummeted in the 1980's. It wasn't until the convergence of two events that Brazil again got in gear behind ethanol. Those events were sharply rising oil prices and the full enslavement of the American consumers to the point where they were unable to take on another dollar's worth of debt. Since Americans were unable to further increase their debt burden, capital previously invested in the U.S. had to look elsewhere to provide the returns it had become used to. Over the past few years, nearly $330 billion has poured into Brazil.

Some of this capital was put to work through local banks in the usual ways, encouraging the purchase of real estate, household appliances, and cars on credit, with interest charges sometimes reaching an eye popping rate of 47%, a level unheard of in the U.S.

Another part of this capital was used to purchase more than 20 million hectares (1 hectare = 2.47 acres) of Brazilian land, particularly in the mid-west regions and the Brazilian agricultural frontier. The rest went to the Amazon. The result is exploitation of Brazil's abundant natural resources and biodiversity.

This exploitation can be best characterized as agricultural monoculture. Eucalyptus, a plant extremely useful for electricity generation and ethanol, is to be cultured exclusively throughout a section of the country in the south all the way to the border with Uruguay. Thousands of hectares of industrial plantations will be destroyed to create what is in effect a green desert. Sugarcane monoculture for ethanol production and export will also be expanded, including 77 new ethanol processing plants that will be built along four major pipelines.

Also reflective of this monoculture is that of the 130 million tons of grain produced, 110 million tons are exclusively soybeans and corn. 300 million hectares are for the production of export cattle. And the big GMO agribusinesses have pressured the government to allow for the selling of their modified corn in Brazil.

Joao Pedro Stedile, leader of the Brazil Landless Workers Movement sees this form of monoculture depleting natural resources, soil and groundwater, and affecting the quality and location of food and water. "Monoculture destroys biodiversity and upsets the environmental balance of the region," he said in a recent publication.

Agribusiness in Brazil unites big landowners with big business, as they share the profits. The Brazilian people are left with the environmental liability, unemployment, and poverty created by this unholy union.

Food prices have soared as a result of financial speculation and corporate control of the market. The cost of food in Brazil has doubled over the past year as supplies have dwindled with the production of biofuels. The food that is available is of very poor quality, being contaminated by the intensive use of pesticides and high tech mechanization. Little remains of the peasant family farm model that produced the food eaten by Brazilians for centuries.

But the greatest devastation of biofuels may even be beyond the environmental ravages of monoculture. Stedile sees the biggest tragedy as the transition to an individual form of transportation promoted by financial capital to push for increased sales of cars on credit. "They are transforming our cities into hell", he says.

To many it appears that a new kind of imperialism is at work in Brazil with the goal of gaining control over the people by owning the means of their agriculture rather than by the use of guns. This is seen as a threat in many other parts of the world as well.

Peasant protests against the new model of farming and the operations of the transnational corporations are coalescing into a social movement serving as a warning to Brazilian society to wake up to the gravity of the situation.

The corporate response to their protests has been to launch PR campaigns in the press, to manipulate the judiciary and the public ministry, and criminalization of social movement activity. If these tactics don't work, Stedile anticipates the use of military police to violently repress the protest movement.

About the author

Barbara is a school psychologist, a published author in the area of personal finance, a breast cancer survivor using "alternative" treatments, a born existentialist, and a student of nature and all things natural.

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