In Amazon, Protecting Rainforest by Policy or Force
Brazilian Amazon Rainforest. Image via: Author's collection.
Two reports came out this weekend about different methods that are being used to stop economic pursuits from cutting down the Amazon. The first involves legalizing squatters in the Brazilian Amazon, according to New Scientist. The second method involves using force to keep outsiders out of the Peruvian Amazon, reports the Christian Science Monitor.Recently, Matthew reported on a new study saying deforestation leads to boom and then rapid bust. The Brazilian President Luis Inacio "Lula" da Silva is set to sign into law a bill (Bill 458) that would formalize and legalize companies and individuals that are currently squatting on what amounts to Brazilian rainforest. The bill is an attempt to better organize and police these areas but it has environmentalists up in arms as they say it will cause a major land grab and take land away from indigenous tribes.
Currently only 4% of the area is legally-owned private land, though many more people moved into the area when the government promised them legal titles in the future. The new legislation would allow owners of 100 hectares or less (since before December 2004) to apply for a free license. Larger landowners could apply to purchase the title the land at a reduced rate. Initially there were provisions to allow the government to take back the land if any had been deforested. Now there are so many amendments and riders that companies that have been squatting and deforesting the land for years will be essentially awarded for waiting the system out.
The Fight for the Peruvian AmazonBrush fire in the Peruvian Amazon. Image via: Author's collection.
On the other side of the debate, indigenous Peruvians are taking environmental protection to the streets and literally protecting it by hand. The resistance movement is called "Bagua" and it is made up of indigenous and local folks who feel that new trade laws will simply open up their land and rainforest to "energy and agribusiness development."
So they have taken to peaceful protests for the last two months, including stringing wire across rivers, and taking over oil facilities in the jungle with bows and arrows. That is, until last week when 30 people were killed and 150 people were injured in clash between the indigenous and the Peruvian government. But there are also rumors of political forces at work here, as some believe the indigenous are being manipulated by opposition government groups to threaten the current government. Some even feel that Hugo Chavez is personally financing the fight. The Bagua claim that they are not financed by anyone and they are tired of the elitist government allowing business groups to come in and take the country's natural resources, to take the only things that they have - water, land, minerals.
More demonstrations are planned in Peru, along with "solidarity strikes" as the indigenous people continue to fight for their rainforest, their land and their resources. Like they said, this is all that they have.
I spent time in both rainforests this past April and there was certainly talk of improving economies in order to protect the rainforests. There was talk of making the mountainous regions more profitable so people don't feel forced to move to the rainforest and thus add stress to the area. There was also talk of finding ways to make the rainforest more valuable intact than cut down. There was also talk of squatters, but community members were finding their owns ways to deal with it as the government was unresponsive. Most of the suggestions involved organizing and using local economics and education to improve the community. Then again, when your land is being sold out from underneath you, when tempers are flaring and patience is running thin, its hard to continue with the same old tactics.