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TV series to highlight Amazon plight

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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Rio De Janeiro (Reuters): Brazil's Globo TV network this month starts filming a soap opera set in the Amazon that the producers hope will stir debate at home and abroad on the plight of the world's biggest rainforest and the mostly poor people who live there. Globo's soaps, or ''telenovelas,'' attract huge audiences and have been marketed in more than 80 countries. They often deal with pressing social issues such as racism and gun violence. ''Amazonia'' will depict the historic fight for independence from Bolivia by rubber tappers in the Acre region of the remote western Amazon at a time when Brazil ruled the world rubber industry.

''Acre is symbolic of the history and problems of the Amazon. The series will stimulate popular discussion,'' producer Marcos Schechtman told reporters yesterday. The telenovela shows Acre's slide from splendor as Malaya (now Malaysia) overtook Brazil as the No. 1 rubber producer, causing output to soar and prices to collapse. ''Acre is now a forgotten corner of the Amazon,'' veteran scriptwriter Gloria Perez said. ''People think no-one lived in the rainforest.'' Perez, who was brought up in Acre, said many people were transported there by force from Brazil's impoverished northeast to tap the rubber trees.

Acre was annexed by Brazil in 1899 to prevent Bolivia leasing it to international capitalists, she said. The telenovela will portray the lives and loves of the people who conquered Acre, such as the Spanish adventurer and womanizer Luis Galvez, who set about educating the rubber tappers with a troupe of pretty teachers. It also features an idealistic soldier, Placido de Castro, who trained and armed a ragged group of tappers with rifles and machetes and led them to victory over Bolivia's army. The miniseries ends with a peaceful campaign in the 1980s by rubber tappers led by the charismatic Chico Mendes to protect the rainforest from ranchers. ''Tappers and Indians were driven from the forest into favelas. Chico made the world aware,'' Perez said, adding that the ''Amazonia'' will revive the message of Mendes, who was murdered by ranchers in 1988.

At present the Amazon is under threat from illegal logging and other agricultural ventures. The rainforest lost 18,900 sq km (7,300 sq miles) -- an area more than half the size of Belgium -- between July 2004 and August last year, according to Brazil's environment ministry. Globo starts shooting its 47-episode series on location in the Amazon this month for screening from January.

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