Violence, Murder and Slavery; the true picture of Amazon destruction revealed

Press release - November 3, 2003
For the first time, the secret face of Amazon destruction and the names of those behind it is revealed in a report published today by Greenpeace. It exposes an alarming picture of land invasions by powerful loggers and cattle ranchers. The report also exposes stories of violence, murder and modern day slavery.

The report 'State of Conflict' focuses on the Brazilian Amazon state of Pará, where industrial activities are surging ahead leaving the law behind. It concentrates on the two most aggressive industrial frontiers in Pará State: the regions of Porto de Moz and Prainha, and the Middle Land. Logging and cattle ranching are now the main driving forces behind the illegal assault on land in these regions.

As with many other areas of the Amazon, environmental problems in Pará are often associated with social injustice and lack of law enforcement. Pará has Brazil's highest rate of assassinations linked to land conflicts, which are hardly ever investigated. As local communities, who depend on the forest for hunting, fishing and small-scale farming, are forced off their land, often under the threat of violence; the gulf between rich and poor in Pará is widened.

In remote, hard-to-police areas of Pará, deforestation is frequently driven by the use of slave labour. Workers are lured into forest areas with false promises of well-paid work, and become trapped in debt bondage, working under dangerous and inhumane conditions for little or no pay. Those who try to escape are often killed.

"To refer to Pará in terms of warfare is no exaggeration: as the report shows there is a war going on in the forest - a war over land, over forest resources and over profit at any price," said Phil Aikman, Greenpeace International Forest Campaigner. "If this conflict is not stopped, Brazil stands to lose hundreds of thousands of square kilometres of the Amazon, the lives of many of its citizens, and any remaining chance for a sustainable future."

Pará is the largest producer and exporter of wood products in the Brazilian Amazon and also the site of one-third of the region's total deforestation. Last year in the Amazon an area the size of Belgium was deforested. Nearly all timber is illegal. An initial analysis of the government's own data for 2001 shows 66% of all timber produced in Pará was illegal, either coming from illegal deforestation (1) or areas that are protected. According to an initial assessment carried out by the government's environmental authorities in Pará, some 88 percent of all Forest Management Plans have been inappropriately granted on public land in Pará where logging is not allowed.

Greenpeace believes that the real long-term future of Pará lies in a new social and economic model of sustainable use of the forests combined with areas of protection. Logging companies committed to truly legal, sustainable and certified operations have a place in this future, but the main effort must be concentrated on bringing governance and environmental and social justice to the Amazon. The only way to achieve this is through the strong commitment of the Brazilian Federal and State governments, backed by international cooperation, working with local communities.

Next week in Montreal, Canada, governments meet to draft a programme of work to protect life on earth. Greenpeace urges governments to put an end to the dramatic loss of plants, animals and their habitats and stop the uncontrolled industrial destruction of the world's ancient forests, in Para and elsewhere in the world.

VVPR info:

'State of Conflict' is available from this website. http://www.greenpeace.org/international/Global/international/planet-2/report/2003/11/state-of-conflict.pdf

Notes:

1. In 2001, for example, IBAMA (the Brazilian Environmental Agency) issued authorisation documents for deforestation of 5,342 hectares, but the total deforestation showed by satellite images from INPE (the Brazilian Institute of Space Research) reveals that 523,700 hectares were deforested. In other words, in 2001 just 1% of the total deforestation area was authorized. Previous years' data is similar.

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