Operação “Arco de Fogo” – Operation “Arc of Fire”

By the end of March the results of the first month of the Operation “Arc of Fire” started to be visualised. Operation “Arco de Fogo” is a hard police action, initiated by the federal government to combat the illegal deforestation of the Amazônia.

Approximately 35% of all illegal deforestation in the federal state of Pará is feeding the charcoal ovens; the other part is selective log cutting of noble wood species. Illegal charcoal is purchased by legal companies, and exported mainly to China and the USA to be used in the steel production process.
But the demand for charcoal is only one of the factors causing the deforestation. Brazil’s Environment Ministry places more of the blame on farmers who clear large areas in the rainforest to create soybean fields and cattle ranches. Officials say that ranching and farming are responsible for up to 80 percent of total deforestation nationwide.

In Aug.2007 Lula and his government celebrated the fact that for the third consecutive year deforestation in the Amazônia had decreased almost to the historical lowest level of 1991 of 11.030 km2 (roughly 25% of a country the size of Holland), while the Environment Minister Marina Silva claimed that the government policy had saved 20.000 birds, 70.000 primates and some 600 million trees from being cut illegally. However in the same month satellites registered 16.592 fires, mainly in the Amazônia area and illegal deforestation had restarted at a large scale.
According to figures supplied by Marina Silva deforestation between August and November 2007 increased with 10%, mainly due to the delayed start of the rainy season, which enabled the loggers to extract the lumber from the forest to almost the end of the year.

A quick response was evidently required and Lula’s decree prohibited any sale of agriculture products, and imposed fines on all trade of meat, soy and other products originating from illegally deforested areas.
Concentrating on 36 municipalities in the Amazônia responsible for more than 50% of all illegal logging Ibama (the federal environment bureau) initiated its activities, with this decree in hand, to effectively combat the deforestation.
The operation was baptized: “Arco de Fogo” (Arc of Fire).

Operation “Arco de Fogo”, which started on the 26th of February and focused on Tailândia, a little town in the south of the state Pará, is run by Ibama with warlike support of some 1.000 military, civil and federal police agents and contingents of the national security forces. The results after its first month of action are staggering: 23 million BRR (9 million euro) in fines. Furthermore 23.300 m3 illegal logs confiscated, while 14 sawmills and 25 charcoal companies were shut down in an area of 4.200 hectares where illegal deforestation was detected.
The action did not restrict to confiscating the illegal lumber or by fining the company owners, but went a step further by dismantling illegal sawmills and razing illegal charcoal ovens to the ground. By the 25th of March, 53 sawmills were inspected, of which 14 shut down and dismantled and 1.175 charcoal ovens completely demolished. Those destroyed ovens alone would have consumed about 23.000 young trees in one month, according to average production rates.
The environmental action groups were delirious.

Given the scope of the operation it is more than likely that the name Tailândia never ever will be connected to environmental crimes, if, at least, the little town will not be wiped out completely.

The journalist Valterlucio Bessa Campelo comes in his article published in Agência Amazônia with a nicely constructed economic analysis, which I recount here. In Brazil there is a lack of reliable demographic figures and therefore Valterlucio interpolates existing figures to come to a mathematical conclusion for Tailândia.
But let’s have a look at the town Tailândia first. Tailândia has 64.000 inhabitants, a Gross National Product (GNP) in 2005 of 266 million BRR (105 million euro), of which the lumber activities represent (2006) some 67,2 million BRR (26,4 million euro) and the agriculture 28,0 million BRR (11 million euro). On the national Human Development Index (HDI) *) Tailândia figures as number 3046. In 2007 the town received 10,6 million BRR (4,156 million euro = 650 euro per capita) for education, health care etc., from the federal tax funds.

As we can see, the economy of Tailândia leans heavily on the exploration of wood products, whose value represents twice the value generated by agriculture activities. According to data from the IBGE*) some 1.400.000 m3 logs are produced annually in this area, representing 25% of the municipal GNP.
In the opinion of the federal government: All of them illegal.

A recent study carried out by the IBGE indicates that for every 1.000 m3 of logged lumber 15 jobs are created. When we transfer this figure to Tailândia we see 21.000 jobs, of which, according to another study, in average 1/3 is direct labour and 2/3 indirect. The calculation for Tailândia ends up with 7.000 direct jobs in the lumber industry.
In the opinion of the federal government: All of them illegal.

An analysis released by the government of Pará shows that 48% of the total populace is employable, of which 92,7% has indeed a job. When we transfer these indices to Tailândia we see that out of the 64.000 inhabitants, 30.720 are employable of which 28.477 have a job.
In other words of all inhabitants older than 10 years, regardless of what type of work, 25% or 7.000 have a job in the lumber industry. If and when this activity in Tailândia is eliminated the unemployment figure rises from 7,3% to 30%.

The above reconstructed figures help to understand the magnitude of the problem which develops when operations as “Arco de Fogo” are extended to other municipalities and federal states. The question is: leads an operation, which only criminalises the deforestation to a sustainable solution of the problem.
Keep in mind, that Tailândia only represents a minuscule fraction of the deforestation in Brazil.

It should be prudent, and particularly for a Lula, telling everybody his government has a socialistic signature, when operations combating the deforestation of the Amazônia go hand in hand with the necessary social actions to remain the local economy at its level. It is a mistake to belief that thousands of labourers in the lumber industry, direct or indirect, illegal or not, will not be stimulated by the instigating words of the lumber barons. The labourer thinks economically. He wants a job, preferably one he knows best. If he defends the interests of the lumber baron, he defends his income. He might not do that, if an alternative is available.

Apparently, after its operation in Tailândia, Ibama came to the same conclusion. According to the director of Ibama in Pará, Aníbal Picanço, social programs are getting in place to minimize the economic impact of the operation, as have been seen in Tailândia, where the local commerce came to a full stop after the sawmills were fined and shut down and the charcoal ovens demolished.
In the meantime it is clear that the national and international press is waiting with oversized expectations to hear from imprisoned lumber barons. While photographs of “definitely” shackled environment criminals no doubt give a double doses of XTC to the public opinion.
But after the over excitement comes the hangover: What are we doing with the 7.000 jobless people in Tailândia.

Caption of the last 5 images: Hundreds of logs of the expensive species maçaranduba, copaíba, ipê and angelim, were buried under a soybean field, close to the PA-150 state road.
Fonte first seven photographs: Paulo Santos/Reuters, Paulo Whitaker/Reuters and Roberto Stuckert/O Globo, last five: Policia Federal.

*) (wiki) HDI or the Human Development Index is the normalized measure of life expectancy, literacy, education, standard of living, and GDP per capita for countries worldwide. It is a standard means of measuring well-being, especially child welfare. It is used to determine and indicate whether a country is a developed, developing, or underdeveloped country. It is also used to measure the impact of economic policies on quality of life
*) (wiki) IBGE or the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (Portuguese: Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística), is the agency responsible for statistical, geographic, cartographic, geodetic and environmental information in Brazil. The IBGE performs a national census every ten years, and the questionnaires account for information such as age, household income, literacy, education, occupation and hygiene levels.