The corona pandemic breaks new records in Brazil. Illegal loggers see the favor of the hour in the Amazon region. In addition, a "land grabbing law" is supposed to subsequently legalize illegal deforestation and occupation of public land.
Rio de Janeiro (dpa) - helicopters circle over the rainforest, employees of the Federal Environment Agency Ibama walk into the protected indigenous area, which is crisscrossed by the mud pits of the illegal gold miners.
The officials destroy several dozen excavators, tractors and other gold prospectors' machines and set them on fire, as can be seen on Brazilian television.
In April, however, their determined action brought the government of right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro against them. Several officials involved in the mega-operation in the south of Pará, deep in the Amazon region, were fired. They had obviously done their job too well.
Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro, a patron of the wooden lobby, introduced a legislative project in December that could be dealt with in Congress in the coming days. It is also called the "land grabbing" law because if it were passed, illegal deforestation and illegal occupation of public land would be legalized before 2018.
While the Brazilian economy is at a standstill, the devastation in the Amazon region in the shadow of the Covid 19 pandemic is increasing dramatically. The National Institute for Space Research Inpe, which evaluates satellite images, has provisionally registered 1200 square kilometers of deforested rainforest for the first quarter. This corresponds to an increase of 55 percent compared to the same period in the previous year. "Illegal loggers do not make a home office," says Rômulo Batista, spokesman for the Greenpeace campaign for the defense of Amazonia, the German press agency.
"It is therefore certain that the pandemic will only intensify the already critical situation of the rainforest and the indigenous peoples living in it in the Brazilian Amazon region," says the country report of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung in Brazil.
Deforestation was already very high in 2019 compared to previous years. Critics accuse President Jair Bolsonaro of encouraging lumberjacks, gold miners and farmers to deforest and take over land. "And people are entering our areas because they assume that they will go unpunished," complained Cacique Kawore, for example, from a protected indigenous area in Pará.
Just a few months after Bolsonaro took office, the indigenous people felt the first effects. Although intruders illegally cleared forest in their protected area, the state authorities stopped pursuing complaints. "May, June, July, August and September last year were some of the worst months ever," says Gabriel Lui, coordinator of the land use and food systems division at the "Instituto Clima e Sociedade" in Rio, the German press agency. Plump, dark green rainforest and then deforested or burned areas could be seen in many places in the Amazon.
While indigenous peoples regard the country as "mother earth" and use it for life, large landowners, lumberjacks, gold prospectors, power plant builders and soybean growers want to gain access to its wealth. Bolsonaro also sees the Amazon as an economic area to exploit. This also means: no longer identify indigenous areas, reduce the size of existing areas and release them for mining.
In one of his first acts, the President transferred responsibility for the Indigenous Territories to the Ministry of Agriculture and assigned the Funai Indigenous Service to the new Ministry of Women, Family and Human Rights. The head of the Adveniat aid organization in Latin America, Father Michael Heinz, even speaks of a "structural breakdown" of the political system, which means that Bolsonaro can neglect environmental protection and ruthlessly exploit protected indigenous areas.
The Federal Environment Agency Ibama has also deliberately weakened it since January 2019, reducing staff and controls. The corona crisis continues to limit officials in their work - in contrast to illegal loggers, gold prospectors and others who seek their luck in the Amazon and thereby threaten the indigenous habitat - and thus the global climate. The indigenous people see themselves, also because of their way of life, as "guardians of the forest". The Amazon region is the largest carbon dioxide storage facility in the world.
If the "land grab" law is implemented, up to 25 square kilometers would go to the person who occupied it. In total, 570,000 square kilometers come together, more than the area of Spain. According to the non-governmental organization Imazon, based in Belém, many of the logging operations in April may have been carried out by those who do not yet have land titles. Scientist Carlos Souza, who studies the change in the rainforest, says: "First they take up the public space and then they try to legally get these areas."
Journal Nacional report
BBC Brasil report