In Brazil, a lawyer at the Catholic social action organization, Land Pastoral Commission – CPT, José Batista Gonçalves Afonso, says that pending changes in the Land Use Code (Código Florestal) and the prospect of an amnesty for cases of illegal deforestation are causing tension and can be considered important background factors against which the recent assassinations of four farm workers took place in the Amazon region at the end of May.
“It may not be the main reason, but this moment of legislative ambiguity and pressure by landowners creates tension and generates insecurity,” declared Afonso, as he added that the proposed alterations in the Forest Code contribute to “an atmosphere of violence… As landowners push hard for more space and the liberty to expand their activities into the Amazon region these are tense times.”
Meanwhile, Paulo Barreto, a forest engineer at the Amazon Institute of Man and the Environment (Instituto do Homem e Meio Ambiente da Amazônia – Imazon), said that he did not see a direct relation between the vote on the new Code and the three deaths of farm workers at an agricultural settlement in Nova Ipixuna, Pará, and a fourth assassination in Rondônia.
The two states are in the Amazon region and all the killings occurred in the last week of May. It seems all four of the dead were environment activists who raised their voices against illegal logging operations. However, Barreto declared that the proposed amnesty for illegal deforestation in the text of the new Código Florestal “reinforces the impression that this is a case of generalized impunity.”
The Codigo Florestal bill approved by the Chamber of Deputies last week, based on a text by Aldo Rebelo (Communist Party of Brazil), frees landowners from prosecution for all illegal deforestation before July 22, 2008, of areas that must be preserved (“reserva legal” – 80% of a property in the Amazon region, 35% in the savannha (“cerrado”) and 20% in the rest of the country), areas that are supposed to be permanently preserved, which are located along rivers and on hillsides and areas of reserved use.
According to Barreto, the problem with the amnesty in the new Code is that it has created a belief that deforestation can continue as future amnesties are in the pipeline.
Barreto also points out that after forest areas are cleared, loggers will begin to move into environmental protection areas, indigenous reservations and agricultural settlements, such as the one in Nova Ipixuna, which are supposed to be protected by law.
However, the CPT lawyer, Afonso, explains that the agricultural settlements are usually in remote areas and are very vulnerable. “It took two days for the police to arrive after the murders of José Claudio Ribeiro da Silva and his wife, Maria do Espírito Santo, at Nova Ipixuna. And even then, there was another assassination a few days later,” he points out. “The killers are just not intimidated.”
With president Dilma Rousseff in Uruguay, vice president Michel Temer presided over a meeting on May 30 where it was decided to send more government agents to the region and put the Federal Police and federal government attorneys (Ministerio Público Federal) to work on the investigation of the four Amazon region assassinations.
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