In Advance of Rio, Controversial Amazon Legislation Gets Partial Veto

In one of the most controversial pieces of legislation in Brazil’s history, President Dilma Rousseff vetoed parts of a law that would destroy the progress made in protecting the Amazon from clearcutting.

Amazon’s forest code, signed into law in 1965, has been successful in reducing deforestation, cutting it 78% from 2004-2011. But the powerful agribusiness lobby – constituting 25% of Congress- pushed through a new law that significantly weakens it.

The new law could open huge swaths of forest to large-scale agriculture, and gives amnesty to landowners that illegally cleared tens of millions of acres of the Amazon rainforest.

It was condemned by a large majority of Brazil’s citizens (80% according to polls), all former environmental ministers and some of the top businesses. It has been the subject of an intense international campaign, "Dilma, Veto It," resulting in two million signatures generated through

Rousseff used a line-item veto on 12 of 84 articles in the law, saying she restored its original spirit. Congress has a month to override her veto with a 50% majority, which most consider unlikely.

"This attempt to parse elements of an already complicated piece of legislation will make the new Forest Code extraordinarily difficult to implement," says the World Wildlife Fund.

The Forest Code forces landowners who illegally clear forests to restore them and requires a percentage of land to be kept as forest. Farmers and ranchers, however, want to be able to use all their land as they see fit.

Rousseff restored specific requirements for how much forest must be maintained – the percentage varies based on where it’s located: 20% in much of the southeast, 35% in savannah areas and 80% in the Amazon. She also restored requirements for forests along the banks of larger rivers to prevent soil erosion and chemical runoff into waterways.

But it softens the Forest Code by allowing protection of hillsides and riversides to count toward a landowners total forest cover.

Large landowners must restore any missing forest cover. Rousseff left more flexibility for small, poorer farmers.

Antipathy toward the law came when the Lulu government began seriously enforcing it. 725 people were arrested, 1,500 businesses were dismantled and $2 billion in fines were levied after illegal deforestation peaked in 2003 – over 10,500 square miles were cleared that year, reports Reuters. That’s when expanding cattle and soy operations reached their peak.

"The population is revolted with the parliament and the revolt will turn against Dilma if she doesn’t veto it," Tony Gigliotti Bezerra, who works in the Culture Ministry told Reuters. The issue underscores how Brazil’s legislators do not feel compelled to represent their constituents’ interests, he says.

With Brazil hosting the Rio+20 Earth Summit in June, many see the controversy as embaressing – and heartbreaking – for a country that holds 40% of the world’s rainforests.

We wonder how Rousseff will deal with her government’s investment of $93 billion to build 20 hydro plants by damming rivers in the Amazon.

2,462 square miles of the Amazon will be flooded, evicting thousands of people from their ancestral lands, and transmission lines will cross the Amazon, carrying the energy to cities.

(Visited 5,686 times, 4 visits today)

Post Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *