Rainforest at Risk

Activists Critical of Rousseff’s
Vetoes to Brazil’s New Forest Code

When the text of the new Brazilian Forest Code landed on President Dilma Rousseff’s desk last week, it had already traveled a serendipitous path through the country’s Congress, agricultural lobby, landowners and exporters, all in favor of easing regulations protecting the Amazon and other wild forests of Brazil.
But environmentalist groups immediately saw the risks it’d represent to the region and found no reason to praise the bill. It heavily favored the logging and timber industry, and would open the door to even more destruction of its natural resources. The bill also offered a generous amnesty to many of the companies directly linked to the record deforestation of the 1970s and 80s.
The president did veto most of the clauses related to that but sadly, it isn’t nearly enough. The government is yet to present its alternatives to the bill and resend it to Congress to another round of debate and vote. But the new code won’t have a resolution before Rio hosts a U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development in late June, and that was the its intention all along, critics say.
In fact, grassroots organizations such as Web-based Avaaz, with the support of Greenpeace, WWF, Brazil’s Academy of Science and even the Catholic Church, had presented the president a petition with over two million signatures demanding a veto to the whole bill which, according to a São Paulo University study, could result in deforestation of some 22 million hectares of the Amazon.
The government seems to have opted for a safer solution, by delaying a final decision to when, it hopes, public opposition to the new bill won’t be so intense. For, despite having reached a feverish point since the proposal was first discussed last year, it remains to be seen whether environmentalists will be able to keep the pressure on and popular mobilization as such in the coming months.

The two biggest points of contention on the original text were the amnesty to companies responsible for illegal logging in the Amazon in the past, and the relaxing of rules forcing farmers to leave portions of their land untouched, specially riverbanks and hillsides, both vetoed or amended by the president.
She’s also added a clause determining the reforestation of patches of land by the companies that have illegally cleared them in the past, which obviously didn’t sit well with big developers. But it’s a condition long sought after by environmentalists, citing the fact that the government has no way to replenish the once luscious areas lost to farming and illegal logging.
A weak Forest Code would only compound to the challenges facing the world’s biggest rainforest and river basin, as other mega hydro-electric dams are being built in the area that stretches from the Pacific to the Atlantic oceans and several thousand miles southward in Brazil. Among them, the controversial Belo Monte dam, which the government deems fundamental to Brazil’s energy self sufficiency.
The greatest challenge to the preservation of the Amazon and other natural resources, though, is in Congress, where an increasingly vocal agricultural lobby, the Ruralistas, threatens to withdraw support to the Rousseff administration if their demands for more areas for commercial development are not made available.

In that way, the U.S. conference may pose another set of headaches to the president, instead of the crowning moment of her administration she’d have expected to have. For all her talk about sustainability and avowed commitment to the protection of the Amazon, such a global stage may actually expose the shortcomings of the policies designed to achieve such goals, so far.
It was 20 years ago in Rio that then U.S. vice-president Al Gore seized the moment and became a worldwide voice identified with environmental and climate change issues, a role that served him well specially when the rug was pulled under his dreams of becoming U.S. president. Things may not work so favorably for President Rousseff.
It took her a lot of political capital to calm the succession turmoil at state-run oil concern, and Brazil’s biggest company, Petrobras, and there’s a lot of uncertainty about its plans to undergo a potentially rewarding but technologically risky enterprise, extracting crude from miles deep under the Campos basin, the so-called pre-salt reserves.
Public opinion in Brazil turned from optimism to worry, after the BP disaster on the Gulf of Mexico, which pretty much showed how far technology is to address even a minor mishap. The explosion of the oil rig in the gulf ignited the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history, and a similar malfunction could have even more catastrophic consequences to Brazil’s most beautiful city, Rio.
So that’s why, however things pan out, President Rousseff needs this Forest Code to get into a smoother path of approval and strike the right chord with both environmental activists in Brazil and abroad, and with her political base in Congress. She definitely can’t afford being portrayed as the president who failed to prevent the demise of the Amazon.

As for Brazilians who complain of being unfairly singled-out about their greatest natural resource, by organizations based in countries that have already destroyed, long ago, their own forests, they may have a point. But at the end of the day, the biggest chunk of the forest does sit within their country’s borders.
Regardless of what happened before, there’s still need to prevent misguided policies from destroying what belongs to the whole mankind. For in the future, it won’t matter whether Europe’s natural forests were destroyed five hundred years before those in South America. What history will be about will be whether the forests will still stand and who did what for that to happen.

2 thoughts on “Rainforest at Risk

  1. Lisa at fLVE says:

    Your comment about the natural resources that others have destroyed struck a core. How many other countries have argue that same point? The industrial revolution brought about changes that benefit what we known as the first world but also brought many wars and destruction (one of them being natural resources) in other developing countries. To compete, these countries would need to get something to pull them up, but at what expense? We have learned that the earth’s round. Really great post. Thank you for writing.


  2. This is a very important issue. Thank you for blogging about it. Happy Friday!


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