- Rich D'Amaru
Environmentalists in Brazil blame government for Amazon land violence
This article by Dom Phillips was originally posted here.
Plans to reduce forest protections linked to attacks on inspectors and campaigners, environmental groups said after two land rights activists murdered
Environmental campaigners have blamed the Brazilian government and Congress for intensifying violence in the lawless Amazon after two land activists were murdered and a transporter carrying vehicles for Brazil’s environment agency was torched last week.
Activists said plans to reduce forest protection gave farmers, loggers and land grabbers a sense of impunity to attack government inspectors and activists squatting rural properties.
“We are seeing a very big increase in violence in rural areas, and the biggest cause is the posture, the behaviour and the policies being adopted in (the capital) Brasília,” said Marcio Astrini, policy coordinator for Greenpeace Brazil.
Controversial proposals in Brazil’s conservative Congress, where a powerful agribusiness lobby wields considerable influence, include liberalising strict environmental licensing regulations. Separately, the government wants to lower the legal protection for much of a 1.3m hectare forest reserve.
According to the Pastoral Land Commission, a not-for-profit group, 45 people have been murdered this year in land conflicts, compared to 61 in the whole of 2016.
On 6 July, Ademir Pereira, 44, local leader of a group called the League of Poor Peasants, was murdered at a car wash in Porto Velho, capital of Rondônia state, while his wife was meeting the local superintendent of Incra, a government land reform agency. He was shot dead by two men in a car.
“It is not possible to live in a country where people die while seeking a piece of land,” Cletho de Brito, the Incra official who was with Pereira’s wife when she found out about his killing, told the news site newsrondonia.com in a video interview.
Afonso Chagas, a Pastoral Land Commission volunteer in Rondônia, said Pereira was part of a longstanding occupation called Terra Nossa. Six people have been killed over the occupation in the past two years, he said.
On 7 July, Rosenilton de Almeida, 44, was murdered leaving an evangelical church in Rio Maria, Pará state, by two men on a motorbike, said Walrimar Santos, a police spokesman.
De Almeida was in an activist group who occupied land in the area, police said. Ten people from the same group were killed on 24 May when 21 police officers arrived at remote farmland near Pão D’Arco they had occupied to carry out an arrest warrant.
Witnesses said police arrived firing and executed the 10 occupiers. Officers said they were received by shots, said Clarissa Leão, a spokeswoman for the Federal Police – Brazil’s equivalent of Scotland Yard or the FBI – who are investigating the massacre.
In the early hours of 7 July, a transporter carrying eight vehicles for the Brazilian government environment agency, Ibama, was set on fire while parked in Cachoeira da Serra, also in Pará.
“They set it on fire while the driver was in it. He nearly got burned alive, he opened the door, it was burning,” said Luciano Evaristo, the agency’s director of environmental protection. Ibama ordered local sawmills to be closed after the attack.
“It is a war of the Brazilian state against crime,” Evaristo said.
The area has been the scene of repeated conflict between Ibama agents and local farmers, loggers and land grabbers, who blocked the main highway last week.
Local media reported they were incensed over a decision by President Michel Temer to veto two bills that would reduce the level of environmental protection for a large part of the nearby 1.3m hectare Jamanxim forest, effectively legalising the many farms long installed in the heavily deforested area.
Temer decided to veto the bills just before an official visit to Norway. Then environment minister José Sarney Filho said the government will introduce another bill, effectively reversing the veto and reducing the forest’s protection level.