Busted in Brazil

Feature story - 23 March, 2006
A land-grabber who has destroyed untold swaths of forest in the Amazon and a Swiss multinational illegally growing genetically engineered crops near a protected nature reserve. Both targeted by Greenpeace, both now facing action by the government of Brazil for their environmental crimes.

Greenpeace activists occupy an area in 1,645 hectares of the Amazon that has been illegally deforested and unfurled a huge 2,500 square meter banner. The President of the Agricultural Producers Association in Santarem, – José Donizetti – is held directly responsible by the Brazilian Environmental Agency IBAMA for this illegal deforestation.

The green wall of forest on either side of the dusty road gives way to a denuded clearing. The naked brown soil contrasts starkly with the jumbled growth of the rainforest surrounding it. From the air, it looks like a fresh wound, the forest cut open by chainsaws and bulldozers.

In the clearing, our activists and members of the local community get ready to send a message to those that destroy the Amazon. In the middle of the 1645-hectare illegal clearing they deploy a huge banner: '100% Crime


A week and a half after our protest at the site of the forest destruction, we receive the good news, the man held responsible for the destruction is being brought to justice.

José Donizetti was arrested on 17 March in Santarem, a city in Pará state, Brazil. He is accused of illegally deforesting 1,645 hectares, destroying Brazil nut trees - protected under Brazilian Law - and is also accused of interfering in the work of the Brazilian Environmental Agency (IBAMA), as well as disrespecting federal authorities.

This isn't the first time Donizetti has faced justice in Brazil; he has been fined twice before for illegal land clearance. Our protest at the site of his latest crime 11 days before his arrest didn't go unchallenged. During the peaceful protest he arrived at the scene in a truck with a number of other men. He threatened the activists and the local community members who were symbolically planting native trees. In a rage, he drove his truck over the '100% Crime' banner the activists had unfurled in the middle of the illegal clearing and, in the words of one who was there, '100% destroyed it.'

Greenpeace is a watchdog, not a police dog. When we expose environmental crimes, we rely on the forces of law to do something about it. Jose Donizetti isn't the only one currently under the spotlight of Brazilian justice.

The enormous Swiss company Syngenta was fined nearly 400,000 euros after they were caught illegally growing genetically modified crops next to a national park. Greenpeace is demanding the immediate destruction of the crop.

The fine is yet another blow to Syngenta after the company's home country rejected the growing of GMOs in the alpine nation in a referendum late last year and comes a year to the day that it was revealed to the European Commission that Syngenta had released unauthorised and untested GMO maize (BT10) in the US and in exports to EU countries.

Martin Luther King said that, "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." In at least these two cases in Brazil, the universe is bending the right way.

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