The International Herald Tribune reports that while Brazil's booming alternative ethanol fuel industry is attracting praise and investment from around the world, President Lula attracted criticism over his description of well-off ethanol producers as "national and world heroes."
Activists said they were upset that Brazil's first working-class leader appeared to praise producers they blame for pocketing huge profits while legions of cane-cutting farm workers stay poor.
"His statement was uncalled for, an aberration considering the exploitation of the labour force that we see on the cane plantations," said Dirceu Fumagalli, national coordinator of the Catholic Church's Land Pastoral group that helps farm workers.
"Ethanol is competitive today only because of the meagre pay given to workers."
US President George W Bush in a 9 March visit to Sao Paulo forged an agreement to promote ethanol as an alternative to fossil fuels, and the two nations will try to spur ethanol production in nations between Brazil and the US.
But Brazilians who protested Mr Bush's visit to Brazil said increasing ethanol production could damage the Amazon rain forest and enrich corporate interests while virtually enslaving poor workers.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez also slammed the Brazil-US alliance, saying vast tracts of land used to produce food in Brazil and Colombia might be shifted to cane production to feed rich nations with energy while leaving the poor hungry.
"The cane producers represent a monoculture sector that doesn't create jobs and doesn't spread wealth, it concentrates it in the hands of a few," said Vanderlei Martini, who heads a state chapter of the radical Landless Rural Workers Movement.
"And the few jobs they create offer precarious conditions, they are promoting slave labour."
According to the Folha de S Paulo, Brazil's largest newspaper, at least 17 workers have died since 2004 on cane plantations.
Leftist Brazilian President Silva slammed for calling ethanol producers 'heroes' (International Herald Tribune, 22/3/07)
LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (Wikipedia)
Ethanol (Environmental Society of Australia)
Brazil Catholic Land Pastoral (Right Livelihood)
23 Mar 2007