International Papers

Brazil Is Burning


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Le Monde’s main front page story and sole editorial were devoted Sunday to the devastation caused by forest fires in the state of Roraima, in northwestern Brazil. Describing the loss of an area the size of Belgium as an “ecological crime,” the Paris newspaper said 20,000 Yanomami Indians, members of one of the last great indigenous tribes in the Americas to have preserved their ancestral way of life, are now threatened with starvation because of the fires.

In its hard-hitting editorial, LeMonde acknowledged that El Niño-related drought had played a part in causing the fires. But “this ecological catastrophe–for it is an immense one–is above all the result of a misguided government policy,” in effect since the early 1970s when a military dictatorship was in power, that sought to populate the Amazonian forest with poor peasants from northeastern Brazil. The goal: to prevent the region’s “annexation” by foreigners. “Condemned to destroy the forest, because a cleared area provides at best only two years of crops, the ‘settlers’ are the first victims of a perverse policy that unfortunately hasn’t changed one jot since the re-establishment of democracy,” the editorial said. “The Amazon continues to act as a safety valve for the social tensions generated by the unjust allocation of land in the rest of the country.” It added that Asian forestry companies, meanwhile, are illegally installing themselves “en masse” in Amazonia “with the blessing of the authorities.”

Afront page cartoon in Le Monde made an improbable link between the Brazilian forest fires and the 30th anniversary of the murder of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. It showed Yanomami Indian children reading the words “I have a dream” from a book of King’s speeches, as one uniformed Brazilian official, putting a match to the forest, asks another, “Maybe we should burn books as well?” In a full page tribute to King, the paper concluded, “The black American community has never again found a leader of his stature.” In another front page piece, titled “Clinton the African,” LeMonde put a positive spin on the president’s African tour, saying 1) the United States finally appreciates Africa’s potential economic importance and 2) “what remains to be done by President Clinton’s administration is to persuade American investors, too, to dip their toes into Africa.”

The conservative Jerusalem Post caused a furor Sunday by claiming in its lead story that Hamas bomber Mohiyedine Sharif was murdered not by the Israeli secret service, as had been widely suggested, but by Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Authority. A report from Jerusalem Monday in La Repubblica of Rome said that the JerusalemPost’s source, Hamas Gaza leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi, denied making the statements attributed to him and that a “furious” Arafat threatened Rantisi with arrest and interrogation by the Palestinian police.

Israeli newspapers, in the meantime, were unanimous in accepting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s word that Israel had nothing to do with Sharif’s murder. The Palestinian papers focused, by contrast, on the plight of the peace process, blaming the United States for the present impasse. Al-Quds said the United States hasn’t come close to striking a middle ground between Israeli and Palestinian positions on Israeli withdrawals from the West Bank; Al-Ayyam accused it of “imposing the Israeli position on us, wrapped in shiny American wrapping paper.”

The Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz led its front page Monday with the imminent Arab general strike over the demolition of three Bedouin homes in the “unrecognized” western Galilee village of Um al Sehali, and its editorial urged an improvement in mathematics teaching in Israeli schools, citing poor student results. Egypt’s Al-Ahram, on the eve of the Islamic “Festival of the Sacrifice” for the deprived, called for an end to the slaughter of rams in the streets. “Rather than turn our cities into slaughterhouses,” the paper said, the authorities should set up “ad hoc organizations to collect money, butcher the rams in appropriate places, preserve the meat in a hygienic manner, and distribute it in a fair way among all those who actually need it.”

In Britain, the Financial Times published a front page interview with Japan’s central bank governor, Masaru Hayami, in which he called on his government to cut income and corporate taxes in its promised emergency package to banish the “dark prospects” hanging over the country’s economy. The rest of the British press was mainly concerned with its two favorite topics–pedophilia and the late Princess Diana. In lynch mob mode, the country’s best-selling tabloid, Rupert Murdoch’s Sun, invited its millions of readers to hunt for a convicted pedophile and child killer as he was released from prison after an eight-year internment. “If any do-gooding liberals protest about prisoners’ rights, we’ll throw up,” it said in an editorial.

The fate of love letters written by Diana to her former lover, James Hewitt, and stolen from him by his Italian mistress, who recently tried to sell them to the London Daily Mirror, which instead handed them over to her executors, has preoccupied all the London newspapers for several days. The tabloid DailyMail’s Peter McKay said Monday the letters should be published immediately; the broadsheet Daily Telegraph said in an editorial that they should be returned to Hewitt, their lawful owner, but that he should agree to keep them sealed in a bank for the next 100 years. Amid some evidence of a press backlash against the princess–top Sun columnist Richard Littlejohn last week called her “a flawed, privileged young woman who filled in time between exotic holidays and shopping for clothes by putting in a bit of work for high-profile charities”–an opinion poll published Monday in the same newspaper said half of Britain is still in mourning for her.

In Switzerland, the weekly Sonntagszeitung (SundayNewspaper) reported a Swiss-American company called White Star Line Ltd. is to build a safe but otherwise exact replica of the Titanic to make its maiden voyage from Britain to New York in the year 2002.