As a coronavirus pandemic eats its way to Amazon, it raises fears of a genocide from vulnerable indigenous tribes, the right-wing president’s government, Jair Bolsonaro, and his supporters dismantled regulations that protect protected reserves. Key environmental officials have been fired, and environmental activists and indigenous leaders fear the pandemic is being used as a smokescreen for a new attack on the rainforest.
They say the president decree waiting for congressional approval and new the rules in the Funai traditional institution effectively legalized land grabbing in protected forests and traditional reserves.
“Indigenous peoples are alone and we must fight against viruses, loggers and illegal miners. We don’t know which is worse, “said Alessandra Munduruku, an indigenous leader from the state of Pará.
Bolsonaro, famous for racist comments about indigenous peoples and supporting nationalist arguments developing Amazon, Popular among farmers, illegal miners, loggers and land grabbers. She said Yanomami Original reserves – the largest in Brazil – are too large and attack environmental institutions to finalize people for environmental crimes.
In December 2019 he issued a decree known as MP910, which allowed farmers to squat up to 2,500 hectares in government-controlled reserves to legalize it. A previous law in 2017 this allows for squatting ground until 2011; Bolsonaro’s decision extended it until 2018.
Critics call it the “land-use decree”. Grabbing land in federal reserves by cutting it down, burning dead trees and putting cattle on it to consolidate ownership is a common practice in the Amazon.
“This step allows the granting of certificates of public areas that have been illegally deforested with the aim of obtaining land,” the word Imazon, a non-profit environmental group. Federal prosecutors say it will make it easier to grab land, in detailed analysis.
The decree has until May 19 to be approved by Congress. Lawmakers from the agricultural lobby pushed for a vote before then, amidst a pandemic, after proposing change which will effectively make it easier and cheaper to legalize crouching land – even if landowners seeking land titles have received land certificates under an “agrarian reform” scheme and sold them.
On April 22, Funai issued new rules to allow land grabbing in customary reserves to regulate their land, provided the reserves had not yet completed the lengthy demarcation process. The process can take decades to complete and requires presidential approval – and Bolsonaro has promised not to limit more “one centimeter” of customary land.
Funai Employees Association the word the new rule “turns Funai into a real-estate notary for squatters, land grabbers and land developers on customary land”.
The National Human Rights Council, an independent federal body, called for the regulation to be revoked, noting that 237 original reserves had not yet completed the demarcation process and the other six were “restricted use” areas with reports of isolated groups who did not have immunity to common diseases such as flu, let alone Covid-19. Landgrabbers can now claim rights in all this.
In a rare step, 49 federal prosecutors throughout Brazil was called in for Funai’s rule to be canceled because of “unconstitutionality, unconventionality and illegality”.
Daniel Azevedo, one of the prosecutors involved, said that his party encouraged land grabbers who expect similar decisions to follow.
“Amazon works like a stock market. “What people in power say in the country really affects people’s behavior,” he said. “This conveys the message that if you deforest now in 2020 or 2021, you will soon become the owner of this area,” he added. “The tendency is for forests to be severely destroyed in the next few years.”
The titles that defend land grabbers argue that they will help regulate the chaotic situation of Amazon land ownership. Allow farmers for land rights they crouched in the past enabling them to access credit and increase productivity, reducing their need to expand further into the forest, farmers said.
Senator Iraja Abreu, who guided the MP910 through Congress, be told the Congress website in Focus that the decision to take over land is “a good law for 99% of Brazilian families, for Brazilian producers, for people who create jobs”.
Funai said the new rules would “correct the unconstitutionality detected in the study”.
Environmentalists oppose that argument. “The government has a project and moves forward on forests, above indigenous peoples, to benefit those who want to cut down forests,” said Mariana Mota, public policy specialist at Greenpeace Brazil.
Deforestation in Brazil began to rise in 2013, after a decade of decline and one year after a reshuffle of the Brazilian forest code by left-wing president Dilma Rousseff including amnesty for people who deforest before 2008. Under Bolsonaro, deforestation has skyrocketed, reaching 9,800 square kilometers in that year to July 2019.
When the controversy over the new rules flared up, Brazilian environmental agent, Ibama fired Renê de Oliveira and Hugo Loss, two high-level field specialists, weeks after they coordinated operations to drive out invaders in customary reserves in the state of Paras for fear they could spread Covid-19. That operation displayed on the popular television show Fantástico, which also revealed pro-Bolsonaro land grabbers with political connections. The director of protection of Ibama, Olivaldi Azevedo, has already done so fired.
Said the lover of the environment reduce protection and encourage invasion of protected areas risks more violence against those who defend it.
In March an indigenous teacher, Zezico Guajajara, has been killed in the state of Maranhão, fifth murder in that area in six months. In April, Ari Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau, a teacher from the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau reserve in the state of Rondônia, Amazon, has been killed. He is one of a group who patrol tribal reserves, and have been threatened.
“The invaders think they can enter the indigenous sanctuary because of the government’s agenda,” said Ivaneide Bandeira, from the non-profit Kanindé group, who has worked with the tribe for decades and knows Ari. “Covid is the cover and the reason.”
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