Sérgio Cabral, the Rio de Janeiro state’s governor, it turns out, signed into law a decree in June 2009 (Decree 41,921), which authorized development projects in a wildlife conservation zone consisting of around 100 offshore islands and a coastal strip of approximately 80 kilometers (50 miles).
Known as the Tamoios Environmental Protection Area (APA) it included Ilha Grande where around 30 people died in mudslides during the night of December 31 and the early morning of January 1st. Prior to the governor’s decree, the only construction allowed was for renovation and expansion of existing structures.
The decree may not have been a direct cause of the deadly New Year mudslides, but it was part of a relaxed attitude with regard to the danger of development in areas of risk. Decree 41,921 was controversial from the beginning and stirred up heated debate.
It was opposed by environmental groups, the government Legal Office and even some areas of the government itself. The administrator of the Tamoios APA, Monica Mesquita, says that the decree is not clear and that it was rushed through the legislative process.
It is not precise or specific, she says, about the size of new construction. “The technical part of the document is vulnerable,” she declared.
A federal prosecutor in Angra dos Reis, Fernando Amorim, called the decree a “disaster.” He explained that although it has not been used to issue new building permits because it was so controversial, it was approved because of pressure by developers and it makes it possible for people who disobey environmental restrictions to escape punishment, which favors the real estate speculation that has been a historical bane in the coastal area of the state of Rio de Janeiro.
Amorim declared that Angra dos Reis has some of Brazil’s most rigorous environmental legislation on paper but that in reality it is all make-believe.
“No one respects the law. They do not respect the law because they are too poor and get pushed up the hillsides into vulnerable areas where they build shacks that turn into a slum, or they disrespect the law because they are rich enough to consider themselves above the law. We have a whole bunch of very expensive mansions that are under judicial embargo here in this area,” he concluded.
Death Toll Rises to 52
Brazilian firemen found two more bodies at the beach on Ilha Grande (an area called Enseada do Bananal) Tuesday afternoon bringing the total dead to 52 in the city of Angra dos Reis and on the tourist island off the coast. Everyone died during mudslides on New Year’s eve caused by heavy rains.
There were two major mudslides in the area. In the city of Angra dos Reis a landslide in a slum neighborhood known as Morro do Carioca destroyed shacks killing around 20 people . And on the island of Ilha Grande at Enseada do Bananal a hillside slide into the ocean taking with it a luxury hotel, summer homes and residences killing more than 30 people.
Spokesmen for Civil Defense said that at least two more bodies are missing and they continue to dig.