Congress has voted to remove the legal bulwarks protecting the Amazon rain forest from stripping by livestock farmers and large property owners. It is now down to the president who alone can veto this assault and save the forests from destruction
"The Amazon is in serious danger: one of the two chambers of the Brazilian parliament has decided to bin the laws currently protecting the forest. If we don't act immediately most of our planet's great green lungs may be destroyed." This is the alarming message issued by Emma, Ricken, Alice, Ben, Iain, Laura, Graziela, Luis and the rest of the team at Avaaz.org, an independent not-for-profit organisation with 9 million members worldwide, which works to ensure that the opinions of ordinary people have a constructive impact on global decisions. The word Avaaz means voice in many languages. This time the campaign being featured on the Avaaz site focuses on the about-face by the Brazilian parliament with regard to its official attitude to the Amazonian rainforest, which has already been irreparably looted and undermined. Under the two Lula governments, however, laws were passed that limited the destruction and punished those involved. AT the time those same limitations were criticised as being far too vague and not going far enough by many Green protesters. However, anything was better than nothing. Unfortunately, that nothing is now around the corner because those few bulwarks have been completely repealed by Congress, not only as a result of pressure from large land lowers and agricultural producers represented in parliament by the ‘ruralistas', but also with the backing of most of the government. The only hope now is Lula president Dilma Rousseff, who has the power to oppose the veto and freeze the situation. The reforms will, amongst other things, include an amnesty for people who illegally stripped trees in protected areas up to 2008. .
At the time the reform was being passed through the Senate, Dilma Rousseff publicly declared her opposition to both deforestation and the amnesty but has yet to take any concrete action: "I am not in favour of either boosting deforestation or the amnesty," he said, "because we have to understand that the environment is a very precious thing that we have to preserve and that that is possible even though we are one of the world's leading food producers."
"The decision has sparked widespread indignation and protests across the nation. Tensions continue to mount: in the last few weeks, a large number of environmentalists have been murdered, probably by criminals hired by large land owners that illegally strip the forests," says Avaaz. "Time, however, is tight and they are now seeking to crush all opposition while the law is being debated in the Senate. However, President Dilma can still use her veto, if we could only manage to convince her to withstand the political pressure in the country and prove she's actually a world-class leader."
The latest victims of the battle to save the environment are Cláudio José Ribeiro da Silva and Maria do Espírito Santo, two activists killed near their home on May 24th last in south-east Pará in the heart of the Amazon. Both were leaders of the CNS, the National Council of Extractive Workers (rubber collectors). Three days later Adelino "Dinho" Ramos was killed in front of his family. He was president of the Movimento Camponeses Corumbiara, an association of small farmers that opposes the timber companies. Ramos had previously escaped a massacre in which 13 people were killed in 1995.
The atmosphere in the Amazon area of Brazil is also becoming increasingly tense because the price of raw materials has spiralled, boosting land values hugely. The agricultural lobby has managed to successfully oppose the Forest Law which thus far has prevented large stretches of rain forest from being destroyed to make way for tillage and grazing. The law allows tillage and livestock farmers to strip just one fifth of the forest on their land and forces them to keep 80% under trees. Unfortunately, it is frequently flaunted. According to the Comissão Pastoral da Terra (the Land Pastoral Commission), 393 people were killed in disputes relating to land ownership between 2000 and 2010. The guilty parties were only very occasionally brought to justice.
The majority of Brazilians oppose any modification to the laws protecting the forests, but their opinions clash with those of the land owners' lobby. And the government is stuck firmly in the middle. "It is now down to us to turn protecting the Amazon into a global battle. We have to unite in a huge appeal to stop the murders and illegal deforestation, and, most importantly of all, save the Amazon". The petition, which you can sign by clicking here, will be delivered to Dilma once it has 500,000 signatures.
"The Amazon is essential for life on earth as 20% of our oxygen and 60% of our fresh water come from its magnificent rain forests. This is why it is crucial that we all protect it," the team continues. "But Brazil is a nation experiencing record growth as it strives to push tens of millions of people out of the poverty trap. Thus there is huge pressure to continue deforestation and mineral extraction. This is why the country is about to abandon its environmental protection. Local activists have been killed, threatened and forced into silence. It is now up to us to take the side of the Brazilians and demand that Brazilian politicians be courageous."
"Over the last three years," they conclude, "the Brazilian members of Avaaz have made huge strides forward and have conducted campaigns that are leading to the kind of world we want: they've seen a courageous anti-corruption law passed, put pressure on the government to ask the UN to play a vital role, to protect human rights and intervene on behalf of democracy in the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere. Now that courageous Brazilian activists have been killed for trying to protect a natural resource that's invaluable to us all, we have to unite and build an international movement to save the Amazonian rain forest and proclaim Brazil as an international leader once again."
Translated by Mary Hegarty