Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff’s top administrative aide, Gilberto Carvalho, made it clear that the Land Use Law (Código Florestal – Forestry Code) approved in the Chamber of Deputies Wednesday evening was not what the government hoped for.
“It is public knowledge that we expected something similar to what was approved in the Senate. The executive branch has a constitutional right to a veto and the president will analyze the bill calmly, serenely and without animosity,” declared Carvalho.
The Chamber of Deputies made around 20 changes to the bill that came out of the Senate at the end of last year.
Asked if the vote was a victory of the rural caucus and a defeat for the executive branch, Carvalho sidestepped the question and described the situation in Congress as a “correlation of forces.”
Carvalho went on to say that president Dilma would take into consideration the repercussion of the bill at the upcoming Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development.
“But even more important than Rio+20 is the creation of a truly sustainable development program for Brazil,” the minister said.
The final text of the Land Use Law approved was profoundly different from the Land Use Law approved by the Senate. The changes, made by rapporteur deputy Paulo Piau (from the PMDB party from Minas Gerais state), were satisfactory to members of the rural caucus but not the executive branch.
The government and environment activists were surprised by the defeat of the bill they favored as it was believed to have the support of most the farm lobby (landowner-farmers), environmental activists and many deputies.
Without citing any specific items in the Land Use Law approved by the Chamber of Deputies on Wednesday, the minister of Agriculture, Mendes Ribeiro, declared that some parts of it may have to be fixed.
“Maybe something can be done, but I don’t want to interfere in the work of the Congress,” said the minister.
Farm Lobby Victory
The Dilma Rousseff administration has a huge majority in the Chamber of Deputies and has been trying hard to pass a new Land Use Law that has been bogged down in Congress for 13 years. The law would correct, at least in part, 500 years of free-for-all land ownership and use or abuse, as critics would say.
Wednesday night the farm lobby, representing agribusiness, landowners and farmers in general, showed that when its interests were at stake it also could drum up a congressional majority.
The result was that the Chamber of Deputies approved a Forestry Code that was not to the liking of the government.
In the final wording of the bill a series of around 20 changes were made to the text that had been approved in the Senate. The bancada rural removed environment protection registration and origin certification of lumber, for example.
They made changes to the rules on preservation of springs and rivers, along with so-called areas of permanent preservation (“APPs”) and coastal mangrove swamplands.
The victory was close to overwhelming (the vote was 274 to 184). Deputy Paulo Piau, who wrote the final text, who made all the changes the government was unhappy with, admitted that further adjustments would be necessary if there was to be a land use law sanctioned by Dilma Rousseff.
Members of the government were quick to point out that 274 votes, although more than enough to pass the bill, were far less than the votes needed to overturn a veto by the president.
“The text is incomplete. We have to improve it. The preservation of areas along rivers is a problem. We need to establish minimum and maximum areas of protection. Fifteen meters of riverbank for all of Brazil is a lot and will have a negative impact on small farmers,” said Piau.
“One good thing we did was set up a trigger mechanism that will protect the small farmer,” added Piau, as he pointed out that the bill sets up a grace period of three years for farmers to adjust. “After that period, the federal government, state governments and the farmers and landowners will sit down and discuss adjustments,” concluded Piau.
“It is not the dream bill that farmers wanted, nor is it what the environmental activists wanted. It was what it was possible to come up with. The text is a pathway down the middle toward what we all want: sustainable production respecting the environment,” said deputy Moreira Mendes (PSD, Roraima), the president of the Parliamentary Farm Front (Frente Parlamentar da Agropecuária).
One of the leaders of the opposition to the bill had a completely different opinion. The leader of the Green Party (PV), Sarney Filho, called the bill that was approved a step back.
“And if this was not a victory for the bancada rural, then why did they fight so hard for this? Piau’s text is terrible and turns the Forestry Code into a Frankenstein, a mixture that no one really understands,” said Sarney Filho, adding that he was in favor of a veto by the president.