Brazilian Reporter Defends Amazon
The Associated Press
December 25, 2005
BELEM, Brazil — Journalist Lucio Flavio Pinto’s crusade against the destroyers of the Amazonian rain forest has earned him an International Press Freedom Award _ along with death threats and some 32 lawsuits aimed at keeping him silent.
He was too busy working on his legal defense to fly to New York to accept the press award last month.
“In the 1960s, deforestation represented less than 1 percent of Amazonia,” Pinto wrote in an acceptance speech read by his daughter Juliana da Cunha Pinto at the awards ceremony. “Today it is about 20 percent. It is a criminal loss of natural resources.”
Over his 38-year career, Pinto has covered the Amazon for some of Brazil’s most prestigious newspapers and magazines. The more he learned, the more he believed it was possible to develop the Amazon while preserving the forest and benefiting its poor residents.
Those who destroy the forest to exploit its riches became his targets, and have sued him in turn. Thirteen of these lawsuits are still pending, and several could see him sentenced to up to three years in prison.
“These days, I spend about 80 percent of time on lawsuits and 20 percent on the paper,” Pinto 54, told The Associated Press in an interview. “I’ve probably become Brazil’s foremost expert on the press law.”
Rather than cutting down the forest for quick profit, Brazil should be sending students into the jungle to catalogue its riches and use them to develop cutting-edge science, argues Pinto, who started writing and publishing “Jornal Pessoal,” or Personal Journal, in 1992.
That vision has not endeared him to a local elite that has made fortunes through logging, ranching and mining.
Pinto says his mission is to combat the rich and powerful who rule Brazil’s remote Para state, notorious for its rain forest destruction, slave labor and the contract killings of activists and union organizers.
“They have no project to develop the state,” he says.
Years ago, Pinto said, someone linked to former Para Gov. Jader Barbalho called up the local daily O Liberal and told the paper to prepare the headline, “Lucio Flavio Pinto Killed.” The editor phoned Pinto right away to warn him.
Then Pinto called Barbalho, a former schoolmate, and had him put a stop to the threats by threatening to blame him for the plot.
For years, Pinto’s nemesis has been Ronaldo Maiorana, a former employer and the owner of the state’s largest newspaper and television station. Pinto says Maiorana has a near monopoly on information in Para. Eighteen of the lawsuits against Pinto have been filed by Maiorana.
Pinto accepts no advertising, to maintain his independence, and doesn’t sell subscriptions. Keeping costs down, his 12-page bimonthly has a print run of just 2,000 and is available only at selected newsstands in Belem.
The paper usually loses money or at best breaks even, says Pinto, who makes his living publishing books and through speaking engagements.
But the influence of Jornal Pessoal exceeds its circulation _ many people photocopy Jornal Pessoal and distribute it to friends.
His critics accuse him of grandstanding.
“Lucio loves playing the victim,” Maiorana recently told the Brazilian media-watching Web site “Comminque-se.”
But someone managed to videotape an incident in a restaurant in Belem this year when Maiorana physically attacked Pinto over some comments he published in his journal. The videotape was later shown at the press freedom awards in New York.
“When they saw that video, people were shocked that a journalist (Maiorana) would do such a thing. They thought the award would help calm things down,” Pinto said. “But since I won the award, I’ve been handed two more lawsuits.”