It has become the hottest environmental debate in Brazil, one that was on the agenda of the presidential candidates during last year’s campaign.
A proposed overhaul of Brazil’s legislation that requires landowners to keep 80 per cent of the forest coverage on their land is about to get re-written due to intense lobbying from agribusiness who found in the figure of a communist deputy called Aldo Rabelo an unlikely but devoted ally.
The code is not strictly obeyed but it is a powerful legal tool for authorities to persecute deforesters. It is used as instrument to blacklist those who break the law and bar them from getting finance.
The new proposed bill will make life easier for those with an interest to clear forest for large monocultures and cattle ranching under the guise of keeping Brazil’s role as one of the world’s major food suppliers.
One of the sorest points of the proposed new code is the shrinking of the width of the riparian zone buffer (forest coverage on river margins and banks). Another controversial point is the amnesty that would be given to those who deforested illegally until July 22, 2008.
Earlier this week the proponents of the overhaul, keen to push it through Congress without much discussion, achieved majority support to fast track the vote, which was seen by environmentalists as a blow to a careful, thoughtful debate. But the Green Party succeeded in getting an injunction to postpone the vote until next Tuesday (10), while government, the legislative, environmentalists and other interest groups continue with this legal tug of war.
One fact is clear: the mere possibility of changing the code has already caused deforestation to grow, according to the latest data released by Brazil’s main environmental agency, Ibama. The agency said in April it seized 19,000 hectares of illegal timber in the states of Mato Grosso, Pará and Amazonas, four times more than during the same period in 2010. This shows that even at conceptual level the idea of watering down the code is already having a negative impact on tropical forests in the South American country, particularly the Amazon forest.
Article by Antonio Pasolini, a Brazilian writer and video art curator based in London, UK. He holds a BA in journalism and an MA in film and television.