Brazil's Environmental Agency IBAMA has shut down a huge soy processing andÂ shipping facility erected in the heart of the Amazon rainforest. Environmental organization Greenpeace accuses the facility of being built illegally. The place will stay closed while Brazilian environmental authorities assess its ecological impact.
The facility, built by Minneapolis-based, US commodity giant Cargill in Santarém, in the northern state of Pará, has been at the center of a controversy after Greenpeace discovered that huge tracts of the Amazon were being destroyed to grow soy. which is shipped from the facility to Europe, to provide cheap feed for chicken which is then sold in fast food outlets and supermarkets.
The development is result of a request by the Federal Ministry of Public Prosecution (MPF) to "inspect and immediately stop the operations of Cargill port as well as condemn the north-American multinational for illegal operation". The Regional Federal Court (TRF, in Portuguese) confirmed the decision.
The TRF Judge Souza Prudente ordered the complete fulfillment of the decision made in 2000, which suspended all permits issued for Cargill port in Santarém. The port does not comply with the Brazilian laws which demand Environmental Impacts Assessment (EIA) for this kind of venture.
According to the MPF: "the judicial order ends the multinational's assumption of non complying with the injunction, hinder its activities in the region and ensure that the Environmental Impact Assessment to be carried out in order to have the port functioning."
According to the Federal Prosecutor in Santarém, Felipe Friz Braga, "this is a historical decision and it changes the pattern of lack of governance in the region."
The suspension of Cargill port activities in Santarém is the culmination of many years of demands by the local communities in Santarém and those who fight the expansion of soy in the Amazon. Soy and other products from the agribusiness are key drivers for deforestation, threatening huge loss of biodiversity and contributing to climate change.
"This is an important day for the Amazon rainforest and for its people. Thanks to the non-stop efforts of the Federal Ministry of Public Prosecution in Pará State, a big step forward has been taken in enforcing the responsible use of natural resources and bringing greater governance in the Amazon", said Paulo Adario, Greenpeace Amazon Campaign Coordinator in Brazil.
"We trust that Cargill will respect the judiciary and conduct a broad environmental impact assessment (EIA), which will result in concrete measures to minimize the impacts by its port and soy expansion in the region. In that way, the company will also confirm its commitment to the moratorium on further deforestation for soy planting, announced by the soy sector in Brazil last year" he continued.
Since 2003, Greenpeace has supported the fight of the local communities who, together with the Federal Public prosecution office, initiated a campaign against the Cargill's port, demanding that a proper environmental assessment was carried out. In 2006, the environmental organization published an extensive investigation on the impact of soy expansion in the Amazon.
The Greenpeace report, "Eating up the Amazon" revealed that the world-wide demand for soy has been fueling deforestation of the world's biggest tropical rainforest. In May last year, Greenpeace launched a high profile protest in the region, blocking Cargill's Santarém port with its ship, the Arctic Sunrise.
The deadline for IBAMA's inspection at the Cargill port initially expired on the March 12, but it was extended by the Federal Ministry of Public Prosecution at the request of IBAMA. Since 2000, the MPF has been engaged in judicial battle in order to have a thorough Environmental Impacts Assessment carried out.
However, instead of complying with the Brazilian environmental law, Cargill exploited the shortcomings of a complex Brazilian legal system and, through a long judicial battle, bought time to construct and operate the terminal without assessing its potentially enormous environmental impact.
In a last attempt to delay the embargo of the port, on March 7, Cargill presented a judicial injunction trying to hinder the Ministry of Public Prosecution of acting or publishing acts for the closure of the port.
The company also aimed to hinder IBAMA inspection and the consequent embargo of the port. However, the Federal Judge in Santarém Francisco de Assis Garcês Castro Junior denied the company's request a week later.
The Brazilian Judiciary decision signed by the Federal Judge Dimis da Costa Braga in 2000 is now in force. This demands Cargill to conduct an Environmental Impacts Assessment (EIA) to regulate the functioning of its grain port, constructed at the margins of Tapajós river in Santarém, in the West of Pará state.
The injunction was addressed to the State Secretariat of Science, Technology and Environment (SECTAM) and it prohibited SECTAM from granting any further authorization for the functioning of Cargill's port without the approval of an EIA.
Follows the step-by-step of what has happened during the legal battle on Cargill's port in Santarém:
1. The judicial process had an injunction back in 2000. This injunction is an urgent decision, quickly issued to avoid prejudice to the civil society. In this case, it was granted to suspend the authorization for the functioning of Cargill's port without the approval of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).
2. Cargill presented seven appeals from this injunction, but was defeated in every instance for the last seven years. In the Brazilian Judiciary, the appeals can have suspensive effect, which means that the decision that is subject of dispute is not valid while the appeal is being judged. Therefore, even with a contrary decision from the Judiciary, Cargill could get authorization and constructed the port.
3. The existence of an appeal does not stop its normal course through the legal channels. And following its normal course, this process got its sentence in 2004, from Judge Fabiano Verli, of Federal Justice in Santarém, condemning Cargill to conduct an EIA. This decision was considered conclusive because it analyses the merit of the issue.
4. Cargill appealed against the sentence, with a civil injunction which is still to be analyzed by the Tribunal Regional Federal da 1ª Região (high court, but not the highest). Meanwhile the 2004 sentence is still to be judged, the 2000 injunction is in force.
5. As Cargill has lost all appeals against the injunction, which was judged in February 2006, its content must now be complied with. The Federal Ministry of Public Prosecution was notified in January 2007 and, therefore, requested the Brazilian Environmental Agency, IBAMA (on the 26th February), to inspect Cargill's terminal in Santarém.
The Federal Ministry of Public Prosecution yet confirms that no impact assessment of any kind was conducted for the construction of Cargill's port.
At the time the company requested a license, it did present a Environmental Control Plan (PCA), which is more used to prevent accidents and it is not appropriate for high impacts activities, according to the Brazilian legislation.
The understanding that the PCA is not adequate and, therefore, the EIA is necessary was acclaimed by all judges that analyzed the issue.