(Picture: the Brazilian Senate in session. Credit: Agencia Senado Brazil.) The Brazilian Senate approved last week a modification to the law that establishes the amount of land the government can concede for rural use in the Legal Amazon without the need for a tender process. The previous limit was 500 hectares and now it's gone up to 15 fiscal modules: each municipality establishes the extension of the modules, and in some places they reach 100 hectares, which sets the maximum to 1500 hectares.
According to an official communicate, with this measure the government's goal is to "monitor and control deforestation in the Amazon, as it seeks to inhibit and fight land-grabbing (grilagem) of public lands in the region, and regularize situations that are legal and in a sustainable frame." This official text also communicated that the Agricultural Development Ministry said this will, "allow better order and more control in the territorial occupation of the Amazon."
However, the fact that the measure was treated as a fast amendment instead of a new law project raised complaints among some senators and environmental sectors, which strongly criticized the decision claiming it will speed the "invasion of the Amazon".The origin of the amendment
According to O Globo newspaper, president Da Silva edited the amendment after a request from the minister of Agricultural Development, Guilherme Cassel.
Cassel has declared that the Amazon's biggest problem is juridical instability of land and is promoting a process of regularization in the region, he says, "to control deforestation."
He asked Lula the amendment saying the previous limit (the government had for legalizing lands) of 500 hectares was not in line with today's reality of Legal Amazon.
Without proper control, however, some sectors say this will allow land grabbers to request the legalization of the lands they occupy: they would be able to confess deforestation in public areas, forbidden by a federal law.
Senators against the measure
Former environmental minister Marina Silva, who still holds a seat on the Senate, spoke in this matter opposing its own party's initiative. According to the official Senate communication she said this would only promote the privatization of public forests and the regularization of lands that were grabbed illegally in the past. She proposed an arrangement to the measure that excluded from the law some areas from the National Public Forest Register, but it was not accepted.
Former Brazilian environmental minister Marina Silva during the session at the Senate. Credit: Agencia Senado.
Another critic to the measure was related to the amount of lands in discussion, which are not related to small producers and families that live in the jungle. Senator Geraldo Mesquita Junior said, "1500 hectares is not the average amount of small properties in the Amazon. This is going to affect a small minority that might have occupied that land irregularly and now they get to regularize their situation. Family agriculture is far from that amount of land."
Senator Marconi Perillo also said the project is going to favor the government in a year of elections.
Environmental Minister defends the amendment
The new environmental minister, Carlos Minc, defended the proposal a day after it was approved. According to O Globo newspaper, he said this will help regularize the possession of lands in the Amazon and that it will be a controlled process. "We're not going to allow this important project of land regularization to become a party for land grabbing."
Environmental organizations strong criticism
From environmental organizations and media, the reaction was strong. "Lula's government might be having success in the economy and the distribution of wealth in society, but it will be remembered as another government that did not prioritize the sustainable development of the last tropical forest in the planet," said the Amazon news agency Kaxiana. "The amendment will only help increase deforestation."
According to this agency, the Brazilian Forest Code says 20% of each land concession can be clearcut for production.
Senate authorizes increase in the area of rural use in the Amazon (official)
Official amendment text
Original tender law for public lands
Marina Silva argues in the Senate but the amendment is approved, O Globo
Minc's words on amendment divert from Marina Silva's, O Globo
"The problem with Amazon is land regularization", interview with Guilherme Cassel
Government amendment will increase Amazon devastation, Kaxiana news agency
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