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Lawlessness in the Brazilian Amazon threatens people and forests
Mongabay.com has recently reported on a disturbing trend playing out in Brazil that is undermining the country’s efforts to preserve its forests and protect forest peoples.
Under a Brazilian law intended to promote conservation, ranchers must ensure that 80% of the land they own remains forested. Yet appreciating land prices have fed widespread criminality that threatens to emasculate this key element of Brazil’s conservation regime. Poor squatters, often backed by large development interests, are staging incursions into protected forest reserves so that the developers can then claim the land and sell it at what are becoming increasingly lucrative prices. To complicate the situation, Brazilian authorities appear either unable or unwilling to curb the land invasions.
“I have been alerting the authorities for months to no avail,” said prominent rancher and conservationist John Cain Carter. “The squatters are heavily armed and the few Federal Policemen who came to investigate would not go in to the forest,” he continued. “During that time the squatters have been systematically cutting down the forest and planting grass, to the extent of even using crop dusters to seed. It is a very dangerous situation. Truly, there is little law, mostly related to a lack of political will.”
Indeed, the legal onus for the incursions may actually fall on ranchers like Carter, who, as a result of squatter incursions, struggles to comply with the government’s stipulation that 80% of his land stay forested. According to Carter, the land invasion problem springs from a combination of factors – including lax law enforcement, corruption, and ineffective land titling practices – that make distinguishing legitimate landowners from illegitimate squatters a vexing exercise. Consequently, lawlessness, vigilantism, and violence characterize life on Brazil’s expansive Amazonian frontier.
Carter leads a nonprofit organization called Aliança da Terra that advocates substituting a certification system for Brazil’s current approach to conservation. “We want market recognition for shouldering this conservation burden,” Carter asserted. “Where else in the world do you have landowners who have to keep 50 percent of their land forest? Nowhere. As it is right now there's nothing to keep forest standing because the law doesn't catch you in time and you can always bribe your way out of it if you do get caught.” Before reform in Brazil can start positively impacting conservation outcomes, there must first be a concerted effort to establish the rule of law in some of the country’s remotest regions.
Read the article in its entirety here.
Posted By Colby Clabaugh at 1:47pm on April 18, 2008
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