Brazil’s Federal Police (PF) agents went on a raid last week exercising 22 search and seizure orders plus 14 arrest warrants in four states in a bid to dismantle an organization which, according to investigators, specialize in invading public property in the Brazilian Rainforest to deforest them and turn them into pasture.
Among the areas raided is the National Forest of Jamanxim, in Pará state. At least one person has been taken to jail in São Paulo.
Named Operation Chestnut (castanheira) after a tree protected by law and a symbol of rainforest, the action is fruit of an investigation conducted in partnership with the PF, the Federal Prosecution Office (MPF) and the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (Ibama), whose job is to administer and protect the National Forest of Jamanxim.
According to state officials in Pará, the lands laid waste to and turned into pasture were demarcated and sold to rural manufacturers. The environmental damage has been estimated by experts at US$ 221.33 million.
In a note, the police state that the individuals under investigation are being regarded as the Brazilian Amazon Forest’s number one perpetrators of deforestation. Their names, however, have not been disclosed.
The ones involved will be charged with the crimes of invasion of public lands, theft, environmental crimes, counterfeiting, criminal conspiracy, tax evasion and money laundering. Sentences may total over 50 years in prison.
Ninety-six PF officers and 19 Ibama officials took part in Operation Chestnut. Investigations are also being carried out in several cities in the states of São Paulo, Pará and Mato Grosso.
The Brazilian government has designated federal areas in the states of Acre, Amazonas, Pará, Rondônia, and Maranhão, as part of the Legal Land Program (Programa Terra Legal, in the original Portuguese), launched by the Ministry of Agrarian Development (MDA).
The properties total 3.28 million hectares (ha), of which 86 thousand will be used in agrarian reform, and 3.19 million for the preservation of the environment.
Agrarian Development Minister Miguel Rosseto pointed out that the decision contributes to the landholding stability in the area known as Amazônia Legal, and further stated that ownership norms were observed throughout the process of land transference.
“We’re regularizing the areas in Amazônia Legal that belong to the Union. After the transference of ownership, the areas will be better taken care of,” the minister remarked, adding that their use in development projects will be more sustainable.
The areas to be used for environmental preservation have been brought under the responsibility of the Ministry of the Environment. Thus, 2.6 million ha will be preserved in Amazonas, 411 thousand in Pará and 12 thousand in Rondônia. In addition, 155 thousand ha were handed over to the state government of Acre, also for the purpose of environmental protection.
As for agrarian reform, MDA has designated 62.5 thousand ha for 806 families in Amazonas, and 81.2 thousand to farmers and also families who live in areas connected with extraction projects in Pará and Maranhão.
The Legal Land Program aims to officialize and set the purpose of federal areas amounting to 55 million ha in Amazônia Legal. Thus far, over 8.8 million ha have been reassigned and 11.168 ownership titles have been given to farmers.
Amazônia Legal is a 5-million-m² area that corresponds to 59% of the Brazilian territory and includes the whole of eight states (Acre, Amapá, Amazonas, Mato Grosso, Pará, Rondônia, Roraima and Tocantins), and part of Maranhão.
The Ministry of Health has started an investigation into the deaths and the cases of infection with a still unidentified disease that afflicted Assurini Indians from the Trocará village, in the southeast of Pará. Three children from the tribe died, and five had to be hospitalized.
According to local health officials, the patients were seen to have their respiratory tract infected, suffer from coughing and fever, and breathe with difficulty. The results of the first examinations ruled out H1N1, metapneumovirus, syncytial virus (which causes bronchiolitis) and whooping cough. Well-known sicknesses, like common cold and mumps, are still a possibility.
Of the three fatalities, one took place on August 20 and another on August 22. The third child died while being transferred to Belém, state capital of Pará, on August 23. Experts from the Special Secretariat of Indigenous Health (Sesai) have been sent from Brasília in an attempt to offer aid to the local teams and help the investigation.
Inspectors from the Brazilian Ministry of Labor have rescued 12 Haitian and two Bolivians workers from slavery-like conditions in northern São Paulo city. It was the first time Haitians were found under circumstances of this sort.
According to Inspector Elisabete Sasse, the immigrants were subjected to exhausting working hours – 11 to 15 hours a day. The maximum permitted by Brazilian law is 8 hours, with a 2-hour break, or 7 hours, with one hour for resting.
Sasse described the lodgings as dirty, and further reported having seen scraps of food, poorly aired facilities, gas bottles placed randomly in the rooms, and moldy walls. “Electrical installations were precarious, and wiring was seen to be exposed,” she said.
Sasse further stated that from June 5 to August 5, when the workers were rescued, they had been paid a mere US$ 43.90, on August 1 after the victims made a complaint. “On the first, [the immigrants] received this amount and halted their work, so the supervisor refused to give them food,” said the inspector. The low pay also goes against the Brazilian Constitution, which stipulates that every worker should earn as a salary at least the minimum wage ($317.85). The workshop has been shut down.
In a bid to prevent similar situations from taking place, Renato Bignami, coordinator of the Actions Against Slave Labor, which is connected with the ministry in São Paulo, said he received a list with 130 companies that have hired immigrants, and, using this as a starting point, he plans to guide them and monitor them for slave labor.
In an interview with Agência Brasil, Mirian Prado, one of the owners of As Marias, said she could never “have imagined” that the workshop she contracted for the company’s clothing production made use of slave labor. “I’m a small company; my production is small. My employees are all hired. I’d never imagined that. I was not aware,” she said.
The businesswoman said she is “completely against slave labor,” adding that she will now rent a place for her own production line. The Ministry of Labor confirmed that she paid all compensation due and handed out basic food baskets to the Haitian and Bolivian victims rescued.
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