Political Risk Latin America Blog @PolRiskLatam

Brazil’s Proposed Reform of Forest Code Sparks Environmentalist Outcry

Posted in News and Articles, Political Risk by politicalrisklatam on May 27, 2011

by Roque Planas for Americas Society / Council of the Americas, May 27, 2011.

The Brazilian House of Deputies’ decision on May 24 to loosen environmental protections contained in the Forest Code invited plenty of international criticism. Brazil’s Forest Code, established in 1965, requires private landowners to keep 80 percent of protected areas forested, among other provisions. Proponents of reform say it would help small farmers stay in business and stimulate domestic food production, but environmentalists view the proposal as a step backwards in the country’s fight to protect the Amazon rainforest. The bill now goes to the Senate, where it could very well pass, though President Dilma Rousseff has threatened to veto key provisions.

With a vote of 273 to 182, the bill sailed through the House. Championed by Aldo Rebelo of the Communist Party of Brazil (PSdoB, in Portuguese) and the agribusiness lobby, the proposed law would open some areas of environmental protection to farmers by loosening restrictions on the clearing of hilltop and riverbank areas. The law would also provide amnesty to those who illegally cut down forested areas prior to a cutoff date of July 22, 2008, and would give states greater control over designating Permanent Areas of Preservation.

President Dilma Rousseff has reservations about the House vote. She threatened to veto the law if the provision extending such authority to state governments is not removed during Senate debate. Rousseff also says that amnesty sends the wrong message. She may be right. The Brazilian Space Agency (INPE, in Portuguese), which routinely conducts aerial surveys of the Amazon, found a 27 percent rise in deforestation over the last two months. Sources at Brazil’s environmental protection agency (known as IBAMA) attributed the unexpected deforestation bump to the debate over the reform, saying it created the expectation that infractions would be forgiven in the future. The IBAMA says it has issued some 13,000 unpaid fines prior to the amnesty’s July 22, 2008 cutoff date, for a total worth of $1.5 billion.  (continue reading… )

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