In Brazil, almost all sectors are in crisis due to the new coronavirus pandemic, including those related to the trafficking of weapons and drugs. Murders and robberies are falling, and it sometimes happens that it is criminal organizations that encourage isolation and quarantine in the communities in which they exercise their control, replacing the State even in helping the most needy families.
But there is an wretched exception, unfortunately.
The crimes against the environment, from deforestation to the occupation of indigenous lands to the illegal extraction of precious metals, show – in the early months of 2020 – an unstoppable increase.
According to data from the INPE (National Space Research Institute), between August 2019 and April 2020 there was a growth of 94% of deforested areas in the Amazon, compared to the same previous period. In total, the deforested area was equal to 5,666 km2 (slightly less than the surface of Corsica, France).
In April 2020 alone, growth was 64% compared to April 2019. In the midst of the pandemic, also taking advantage of the fact that attention was focused on the need to combat the spread of the virus, the activity of deforesters and “grileiros” has even increased.
All this one month after Bolsonaro’s authorization of GLO (Law and Order Guarantee) operations – provided for by the Federal Constitution – which allows the use of the Armed Forces to combat deforestation. Under the direct command of the Vice-President of the Republic (General Hamilton Mourao), the intervention weakens the implementation of institutions responsible for environmental protection, such as ICMBio and Ibama, whose managers have been replaced by new officers names faithful to the government.
It is not new that one of the objectives of the Bolsonaro government is to increase the exploitation of the resources of the Amazon, at the expense of the indigenous peoples who live there and the preservation/conservation of the resources of this very important biome.
In recent weeks there have been attacks on ICMBio and Ibama officials engaged in control operations against illegal deforestation and mining activities.
In a statement released in recent days, the non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) denounced the suspension of fines for illegal deforestation from October 2019, due to a government decree that introduced a conciliation process, in which – in practice – the application of penalties is blocked.
It is in this dramatic context that Parliament has almost transformed into law a presidential decree (MP 910/2019) which aims to regularize the lands of the Union that have been illegally occupied since 2012, mainly in the Amazon, where invaders have occupied and cut down the forests, and then set everything on fire to allocate the land to pasture or plantation.
The “invasions” occur in national parks and even in indigenous lands.
The first defender of the MP is Bolsonaro, who wants to legalize illegal occupations and then transfer the properties to the fazendeiros. All through the coordination of Nabhan Garcia, secretary of land affairs at the Ministry of Agriculture.
The interests are enormous, as are the pressure on Parliament by lobbies linked to large landowners.
The decree-law has not been converted, but its rapporteur has already presented a bill which proposes the same contents and which could be put to the vote in the next few days.
To get an idea of the potential environmental disaster, if the law is approved, approximately 600 thousand properties will be legalized in a rural area and the ownership of approximately 60/65 million hectares will be transferred.
There are at least three important considerations to make.
First, by substantially extending – for the second time in just three years – the time span of the amnesties of occupations on public land, the proposed law legitimizes theft and deforestation and promotes a further contrast between territorial policies and environmental ones.
Secondly, the invaders of medium and large public lands (not the small owners) are rewarded, allowing to regularize areas up to 2,500 hectares on the basis of the self-declaration of the occupant, without even the need for a preventive inspection to verify on the spot who is actually occupying the land. The objective of simplifying and speeding up the regularization procedure, through self-declaration and the use of remote sensing technology, cannot be taken as an excuse for legitimizing irregularities or fraud, perversely creating incentives for new fines.
Thirdly, the bill does not require that “legalized” occupants have to bear the burden of environmental regularization of the properties they occupy. That is, the invaders, in addition to appropriating public property, will enjoy benefits that the landowners in law have not been able to use in the past. In addition to the damage, the mockery.
In practice, this bill creates incentives that worsen the business environment in Brazil by rewarding criminal activities (occupation of public lands and illegal deforestation), especially in the Amazon. In addition, it sets a precedent for other equally disastrous changes, such as that of the environmental regulation of the Forestry Code, already subject to attacks during the Bolsonaro management.
All this while deforestation in the Amazon is explicitly cited as a potential obstacle to the trade agreement between Brazil and the European Union and agricultural exports have been constantly subject to restrictions and trade threats.
If the bill will be approved, the largest British food distribution groups are threatening to boycott the goods produced in Brazil, as stated in a letter sent to the Brazilian Congress.
The 41 signatories, which include some of the UK’s best-known distributors and retailers – such as Marks & Spencer, Tesco, J Sainsbury, Asda and Waitrose, as well as food companies like Burger King – said they were “deeply concerned” about the design of law supported by the Brazilian president.
“We think this would also compromise the ability of companies like ours to continue sourcing in Brazil in the future,” they added.
We all do our part, we watch and report!