Activists decry bill on Amazon deforestation
The government of embattled Brazilian President Michel Temer has sent a proposed bill to the National Congress that environmentalists fear would reduce protected forest areas in the Amazon.
If passed, the bill would see preservation areas of the Jamanxim National Forest in the Amazonian state of Para cut by 27%, about 350 000 hectares, an area roughly the size of Portugal.
Critics say that land-grabbers illegally occupying forest land stand to benefit the most.
The bill comes as Temer is expected to face a vote in Congress on August 2 that could see him suspended and face trial for corruption.
Critics see the bill as a way for the scandal-plagued president to shore up vital support from the country’s powerful agriculture caucus.
“This proposed bill and other anti-environmental legislation proposed by Temer is a way for him to buy votes and stay in power,” said Marcio Astrini, policy coordinator at environmental watchdog Greenpeace Brazil. According to parliamentary watchdog group Congresso em Foco, the agriculture caucus holds 230 seats in Brazil’s 513-seat lower house and 24 in the 81-member Senate.
Novo Progresso, the municipality where the Jamanxim National Forest is situated, is a hotbed of violent land conflict, land grabbing, illegal logging and mining. Jamanxim was declared a national park in 2006 to try to minimise these impacts.
In June, trucks belonging to Brazil’s environmental police were burnt in Novo Progresso after Temer vetoed a similar bill to reduce the forest areas by 37%. The veto was announced on the evening of a trip to Norway, one of the biggest investors in Brazil’s Amazon, and followed criticisms by Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg.
If the bill passes, farming, mining and industrial activity would be permitted in the protected forest areas and the occupants who receive land titles will also be able to sell their land.
“People who have illegally occupied public land are being rewarded instead of being punished,” said Elis Araujo, a researcher and lawyer at the Imazon environmental watchdog agency.
The government says that only areas occupied before 2006 will be regularised and that only 20% of the forest on each property can be used for farming or mining. However, Araujo fears that the bill can be altered to benefit land-grabbers and illegal activity.
Senator Romero Juca, rapporteur of the bill, described the law in the Senate as a historic debt paid to thousands of families who migrated to the Amazon in the 1970s and 1980s and never received land titles promised by the government.
Critics refute the social responsibility claim, however, pointing out that the law gives amnesty for properties as large as 2 500 hectares, hardly small landholdings.
RUN, FOREST Activists in Durban protest against the deforestation of the Amazon in Brazil