massive increase in deforestation
Battle for the Amazon
A massive increase in deforestation has put two branches of the Brazilian government on collision course
Wednesday October 1 st 2008
Brazil's new environment minister, Carlos Minc, announced this week that he will be pressing for criminal charges against 100 of the worst individuals or companies responsible for most of the deforestation since 2005. New figures just released show that the rate of deforestation has increased by 133% since last month in the nine states of the Amazon region, which is an increase of 228% compared to a year ago.
Minc also said that the government will create an environmental police force with 3,000 heavily armed and specially trained officers to enforce the law. "I am a pacifist and environmentalist," he told journalists, "but without greater repression we are not going to end the destruction of the Amazon."
Top of Minc's list of culprits is theBrazilian National Institute for Agrarian Reform (Inrca), responsible for finding land for Brazil's large landless population, whose settlements in the Amazon are ranked amongst the top eight worst offenders. However, Incra's president, Rolf Hackbart, rejected the idea of bringing criminal proceedings as "absurd" saying that it will only serve to undermine the government's agrarian reforms.
Brazil faces two related environmental problems, based on its highly unequal system of land ownership, which means that a tiny elite hold massive estates, while millions remain landless. Increased mechanisation and the spread of cash crops has driven large numbers of these into the Amazon, where they clear land for farming using cash and burn techniques. This, and illegal logging for Brazil's high quality wood, has steadily increased the pressure on the rainforest and is also a major cause of global warming.
Under President Lula, Brazil has had some success reversing deforestation in recent years, but this year saw a sharp increase in the levels of destruction. The rising price of food is undoubtedly one of the major reasons for this, but Minc also stressed that it was down to a lack of inspection and enforcement of the law.
Hackbart, however, blamed the "economic model of agriculture" as the main reason for the destruction. He said that Mato Grosso, one of the states bordering the Amazon, is "a sea of soya and cattle ranches." The big farmers are destroying the environment through the production of cash crops and cattle, he said, and pushing smaller farmers into the Amazon. He argued that the crisis needs to be tackled holistically and blaming Incra and the small farmers is to attack the principal victims of the crisis.
Minc assumed office two months ago after the resignation of Marina Silva, a native of the Amazon and an internationally respected campaigner. She had clashed repeatedly with other members of President Lula's government, in particular, Dilma Rousseff, Lula's chief of staff, who is leading its flagship programme for accelerated growth and Roberto Mangabeira Unger, the "minister for long-term planning". Although she was a long-time friend and colleague of Lula's, he also sided against her, stressing that the preservation of the Amazon should be "balanced against economic development and the needs of the people who live there".
Silva had also come up against some entrenched vested interests at the local level and Minc again warned at the weekend that a lack of cooperation by some state governors was a major part of the problem.
Brazil's environmentalists have repeatedly criticised Blairo Maggi, the governor of Mato Grosso and the world's largest soya bean producer, for being one of the chief causes of the Amazon's destruction. Greenpeace awarded him their Golden Chainsaw Award in 2006.
Five years ago Maggi told the new York Times:
To me, a 40% increase in deforestation doesn't mean anything at all, and I don't feel the slightest guilt over what we are doing here. We're talking about an area larger than Europe that has barely been touched, so there is nothing at all to get worried about.