Dying for a wetland

 
Published: Thursday 15 December 2005

According to officials at the Santa Casa hospital, Francisco Anselmo de Barros, 65, set himself on fire and died of burns to protest a proposed sugarcane alcohol plant in the environmentally fragile region. He wrapped himself in an alcohol-soaked blanket and set it on fire during a protest in Campo Grande defending Brazil's Pantanal wetlands. Though fellow protesters tried to smother the fire, Barros still sustained over 90 per cent burns.

The Mato Grosso do Sul state assembly is debating a project to build alcohol plants on the upper Paraguay River, which runs through the Pantanal, the world's largest wetlands. Ecologists fear an expansion of cane plantations to make sugar and alcohol, widely used as automobile fuel in Brazil. Barros founded the Foundation for Nature Conservation in 1980. He left a letter for his family and friends, saying he "did what he did as the only way to wake the people up" to the environmental threat.

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