The alarm over the deforestation of the Amazon is still growing.

In May 2021, according to the INPE (National Institute for Space Research) 1180 km2 of forest were destroyed, 41% more than in the same month of 2020. The months of April and March 2021 were also tragic, with respectively 580 and 367 km2 of forest razed to the ground.

The drama of the Amazon continues, despite Bolsonaro’s reassurances during the climate meeting organized by the US in April 2021. On that occasion, Bolsonaro said he wanted to end illegal deforestation by 2030.

Unfortunately, the actions of the government, since the beginning of its mandate, go in the opposite direction.

According to Marcio Astrini, director of the Climate Observatory, “the Amazon has become a kind of amusement park for environmental criminals. There is no inspection, no combat plan, not even an attitude that intimidates the criminals. On the contrary: the government seems to want to give the green light to organized crime, illegal deforesters and land grabbers ”.

The government’s attitude on the environmental issue in general is well known: Brazil has immense natural resources (fertile soils, trees with precious wood, minerals, etc.) which  cannot be exploited without causing a great environmental impact. Preserving and conserving these resources has a very high “opportunity cost” (the cost deriving from the failure to exploit an opportunity granted to an economic entity or even the sacrifice that an economic operator must make to make an economic choice), which should be remunerated or rewarded in some way. If the Amazon is important for the planet and Brazil is not to be exploited more, let the planet contribute to its preservation / conservation.

It must be said that Brazil has very advanced environmental legislation (*), but its application depends on the existence of effective controls and the rigorous punishment of offenders. And it is precisely on this front that the Bolsonaro government is facilitating the destruction of the Amazon, weakening the activity of the bodies responsible for controlling and combating environmental crimes. The Ibama (Instituto Brasileiro do Meio Ambiente e dos Recursos Naturais Renováveis) is the main federal body for the protection of the environment, with only 591 agents throughout the national territory (in 2010 there were 1311, always few but more than double those current). To fight the fires in the upcoming dry season, the temporary contracting of 1,659 firefighters is envisaged, a positive but not sufficient sign.

In April, about 400 Ibama officials signed a document denouncing how the change in the rules for the issuance of fines against those who harm the environment – imposed by the Ministry of the Environment – is making it almost impossible to fine those responsible.

There is certainly a strong political component in this conflict, but there is no doubt that the situation in the Amazon is getting worse year after year.

To deal with the emergency, the government is organizing a new operation (Verde Brasil 3) that involves the army and is commanded by vice-president Hamilton Mourão. The deployment of forces will serve to fight fires (the dry season is about to begin) and deforestation.

On the legislative front, there is the novelty of the approval of the “Environmental License Law” by the Chamber of Deputies. This is a new law that tends to facilitate the approval of infrastructure works even in environmentally protected areas. To give an example, if the law is also approved by the Senate, it will no longer be necessary to submit for approval projects for the maintenance of roads, water treatment / sewage systems and ports considered insignificant by the competent authorities. For environmentalists, this is a dangerous step backwards, which can have a strong environmental impact, even in indigenous communities.

Another draft law is under discussion (PL 510/21), renamed by the opposition as “PL da Grilagem”, which provides for the regularization of land occupations located in areas of the Union, or land that does not have legal owners. The change makes it easier for illegally cleared public land to become the property of those who destroyed it. There are about 50 million hectares of public forests that do not have a defined owner; about 23% of these territories have already been illegally occupied by “grileiros”.

This bill, if approved, can cause a real environmental disaster and the occupation of land now considered to belong to indigenous communities.

The great challenge is to create a model of sustainable exploitation of the resources present in the Amazon, favoring the economic development of the often very poor populations who live there. In an environment without clear rules and with fewer and fewer controls, organized crime can thrive and become the only source of income generation.

(*) The “Legal Reserve Areas”

A law included in the Forest Code, little known abroad, says a lot about the Brazilian state’s commitment to the preservation of its territory. It is the law that defines the Legal Reserve Areas (ARL) or the percentage of the surface that must be compulsorily preserved within private rural properties. This percentage can range from 80% (in the Amazonian regions) to 20% in almost all other areas (with the exception of the Cerrado where it is 30%).

For example, those who own a rural property of 1000 hectares in an Amazon region can only allocate 200 to cultivation: in the other 800 hectares they must maintain native vegetation, promoting biodiversity and the protection of fauna and flora.

The landowners, large and small, are therefore the first protagonists of the preservation of the Brazilian territory and of the great biodiversity it hosts.

(**) The “grilagem”

It is a system of usurpation of lands returned through a process aimed at illegally transforming them into private possessions. In practice, the “grileiros” produce false documents to prove that the land in question originally (before 1850) was not public but rather private. The original method of “aging” of false documents? Place the fake in a box full of crickets, which – with the action of the jaws and their own excrement – give the document an ancient appearance. Without any original register (apart from the parish ones, which have no legal validity however) and with the condescension (if not explicit complicity) of the state authorities, the lands returned became, as if by magic, private.

Today the term “grillage” defines not only the falsification of documents but also all the new forms of usurpation of the returned lands: violent occupations (often with the killing of those who oppose it), illegal exploitation of mineral resources (the “garimpos”, open pit mines that devastate the forest), fires to transform the forest into pasture or arable fields.

A new and violent mechanism for the occupation of public lands has recently emerged: farmers interested in lands already subject to “grilling” constitute armed militias, which – with threats, violence and death – expel the proprietary farmers (in turn illegal), appropriate of the land that they rent in lots to farming families. Once the ownership of the land is regularized, the families resell the land to the farmers at an affordable price for everyone. This is how a real recycling of the land takes place, at this point legally privatized.