In just one month, the deforestation of the Amazônia exploded. The National Institute for Spacial Research (Inpe) reported data on deforestation in the Amazônia Legal, for the month of April. According to the Deter system (Detecção do Desmatamento em Tempo Real = Deforestation Detection in Real-Time) there was an increase of 774.48% in deforestation in the region, eight times more. In March 2008, 145 km ² was cut down, while the number in April rose to 1,123 km ². Unfortunately Deter is only able to detect deforestation polygons of areas larger than 25 hectares due to the resolution of the space sensors.
And the owner of the Amazônia?
Unfortunately it occurs that the Amazônia has a not-properly-caring owner. Approximately 62% of the Amazônia delta with its rain forests belongs to Brazil, but the numbers of deforestation are alarming. Just in the first five years of Lula’s government, it was 100 thousand km2 (2½ x the Netherlands).
The Brazilian economic columnist Míriam Leitão stated in Bom Dia Brasil: “The argumentation that the world has no right to claim the protection of the Amazônia because rich countries pollute or have already destroyed their forests, is not quite correct. If the Amazônia is ours, we have to preserve it. …….. If Brazil protects its biodiversity, they have to use its wealth for the production of medicines, cosmetics, timber in a sustainable way and industrial production of various items.”
That’s why the Brazilian Academy of Sciences proposes to invest heavily in universities, technological institutes, training of scientists in the Amazônia, to activate research in the region to find the best model of exploitation of its wealth. Today, it is only being occupied by ‘grilagem’ (unlawful claiming of rain forest areas), deforestation and even criminal slave labour.
This is not development.
The main task of the extraordinary minister of Strategic Affairs, Roberto Mangabeira Unger, as coordinator of the Plano Amazônia Sustentável (PAS = Program for a Sustainable Amazônia) is to develop “a strategy of zoning the Amazônia, one with forest and another one without forest.” As quoted by his own words.
“Let’s stop talking about the fiction that there is a war between environmentalists and developers. This is not the problem. The problem is that we have not yet formulated the necessary measures neither to defend the forest, nor to develop the Amazônia,” he assessed.
The coordinator of the PAS believes (what others are saying for years on end) in a correlation between the unemployment rate and the (illegal) deforestation of native forests: “The Amazônia is not just a collection of trees, it is also a group of people, and if the Brazilians who live there do not have economic opportunities they will be inexorably led to illegal deforestation activities.”
But from whom is the Amazônia, after all?
A story published in the American newspaper The New York Times suggests that global leaders argue that the Amazônia is not a unique heritage of any country, which is causing concern in Brazil. And continues: “a chorus of international leaders are more openly declaring the Amazônia as part of a much larger heritage then the only nations that share its territory.”
The newspaper quotes the former US vice-president Al Gore, who in 1989 said that “contrary to what the Brazilians believe, the Amazônia is not owned by them, it belongs to us all.”
In the meantime the government of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva tries to pass a law to restrict access to the Amazônia Forest, imposing a licensing scheme for both foreigners and Brazilians.
“But many experts say that the Amazônia in the proposed restrictions conflict with his own efforts (of President Lula) to give Brazil a greater voice in the negotiations on global climate change – an implicit recognition that the Amazônia is critical to the world as a whole,” the article reads.
“It’s a fight that shall only become more complicated in the coming years in the light of two conflicting trends: a growing demand for energy resources and a growing concern with climate change and pollution.”
But President Lula is adamant: “The Amazônia has an owner and that’s us, Brazilians.”
President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva said, attending the 20th National Forum in May that “the world needs to understand that the Amazônia has an owner and that we, Brazilians, are that owner.”
He questioned the conditions of developed countries, the biggest polluters, to discuss this issue. “The countries which are responsible for 70% of the world’s pollution are talking now about the Amazônia,” he said. Lula advocated the preservation, but also the development of the Amazônia. “It will be a discussion for the next two decades,” he said.
“But don’t cry out prematurely”, the “Economist” is right after all
Although most Brazilians do not like it when someone, particular a gringo, wants to “put a finger” in the Amazônia, as President Lula called it, the truth is that the British “The Economist” had it spot on, when it stated that it is almost impossible to put rules in the region,” writes the Brazilian journalist Ricardo Kotscho in one of his columns. And he follows with:
In its story “Welcome to our shrinking jungle” the Economist states bluntly that it is very difficult for the Brazilian government to control the exploitation and deforestation of the Amazônia forest “because there is no control over the ownership of land in the region.”
Nobody has control – and hardly somebody will one day. I say this with sadness. In Amazônia region everything is too grand, too immense, too vast, too dense and far too huge for anyone to even dream to place the forest under some form of order.
You can see it with the naked eye: the pastures progressing in cleared areas owned by nobody, where the law has not yet arrived and the State is a distant mirage for the owners of cattle that are multiplying in geometric progression.
Some alarming data show how the burst of cattle raising is devastating the forest:
• In 1964, Amazônia had a flock of about one million cattle and less than 1% of the area had been deforested for pastures.
• In just thirteen years, between 1990 and 2003, the Amazônia herd rose from 26,6 million to 63 million heads, an increase of 6,7% per year, ten times the increase in Brazilian population.
• Today, the pastures shelter more than 70 million heads of livestock, one third of the entire cattle herd in the country. Since the Amazônia has a population of 23 million people there is an average of three heads of cattle per capita (including babies and old people).
• To open the pastures 16% of the forest area has been deforested, which is more than 70 million hectares, equivalent to Spain and Portugal together.
• The Amazônia continues losing 24.000 km2 of native forest per year, an area equivalent to two thirds of the territory of Belgium. As 1% of the forest turns into grass each year, and the current progress of livestock in the region is kept, in 2050, half of the forest will have been cut to house a corral of 285 million head of cattle.
• The main reason for this burst in cattle raising is the low or even non-existent price of land by pure and simple invasion of public areas, the popular ‘grilagem’. It is cheaper to cut trees (USD 200 to USD 300 per hectare) than to recover land from areas already deforested and degraded and turned into ‘juquira’ (USD 700 to USD 750 a hectare). Juquiras are deforested areas which are claimed back by nature with the springing up of small trees and an abundance of weeds. As sugarcane took the place of pastures in the fever for ethanol and soybean moved to the centre west of the country, cattle farms were pushed into the Amazônia in search of new pastures.
A study carried out by Instituto do Homem e Meio Ambiente da Amazônia (Imazon = Institute of Man and Environment of the Amazônia), and commissioned by the World Bank, brought to light that 42 million hectares – an area corresponding to 8,5% of the Amazônia (an area the size of Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium together) is in illegal possession and totally outside the control of the government.
“This is, in practice, a free privatization of the forest. They never paid for the land and continue without paying taxes,” said the coordinator of the research, forestry engineer Paulo Barreto. The process is always the same: the ‘grileiro’ “lends” the land to a timber friend to “clear the area”, that is, overthrow the forest, and then plant grass, moving forward without limits and without any control, because, here a title deed is a fiction, even if it were existing.
In this context, some initiatives announced by the federal government to stop the destruction of the rain forest after the world started to protest against the progressive deforestation, sound romantic. But the government actions are entirely insufficient and even laughable and can only be considered as serious and might even revert the situation, if and when the federal government sends the Brazilian Armed Forces with all available equipment including helicopters and planes to the Amazônia.
The worst thing is that this time, we are obliged to accept that the English magazine is correct to say: “In practice, it is almost impossible for the Brazilian government to impose its will within the limits of its empire, even if it wanted.”
If Lula claims: “the Amazônia is ours.” Why can he only launche a grand-scale manoeuvre with the armed forces, including the navy and air forces, to defend the Amazônia Azul (Blue Amazon, in my next post I shall explain the Blue Amazon) and not do the same for the Green Amazon. Well, frustratingly, the answer is simple, as always: the Amazônia Azul has all to do with oil, while the Amazônia Verde has, as it is, only to do with the environment and global climate change.