State of Conflict

Publication - November 3, 2003
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.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 communitie

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Executive summary: Around 40 percent of the world’s remaining tropical rainforest is foundin the Amazon Basin, a place of enormous ecological importance insustaining global water and climate systems. Despite decades of intensefocus in the spotlight of international environmental concern, theAmazon is today more than ever under siege from the loggers, farmers,and politicians who view it as a modern Eldorado to be plundered forprofit.Of all Brazil’s Amazon regions, it is the State of Pará that hassuffered the worst impact from logging. The largest timber exportingregion of the entire Amazon, Pará has lost an area of rainforest thesize of Austria, the Netherlands, Portugal and Switzerland combined. Pará’s story is one that resonates throughout the Amazon. It tells of a‘boom and bust’ cycle whereby loggers exploit the land, strip it offorest cover and abandon it to cattle ranchers or other large-scalefarming ventures. The period of boom, fuelled by the extraction ofhigh-value species such as mahogany and cedar, quickly gives way todecline as lesser species of timber are exhausted in their turn, and theland is transformed into nutrient-poor grazing or farmland, providinglittle economic opportunity for the community.Fuelling this cycle is a state of lawlessness in which land invasionsand illegal occupancy of public land are backed by violence and evenmurder. Pará has Brazil’s highest rate of assassinations linked to landconflicts, and these are hardly ever investigated. As local forestdwellers who depend on the land for hunting, fishing and small-scalefarming are forced away from their territory, the gulf between rich andpoor in Pará widens. In remote, hard-to-police areas of the forest, deforestation isfrequently driven by slavery. Workers are lured into forest areas withpromises of well-paid farm work, and become trapped in debt bondage,working under dangerous and inhumane conditions for little or no pay.Those who try to escape are sometimes killed. The variety of methods of land title falsification that enable loggersand others to lay claim to the rainforest are described by the term‘grilagem’. Grilagem is made possible by the legal quagmire whichcharacterizes land ownership in the Brazilian Amazon, with littlechecking by land registration authorities. Loggers exploit the legal andbureaucratic vacuum to seize land using a mixture of grilagem andphysical force. Greenpeace produced a detailed map showing grilagemlinked to Forest Management Plans in Porto de Moz. This map the firstof its kind - was submitted to IBAMA in October 2003 along with a demandfor action. The conflict for land and forests today is raging most intensely in twokey frontiers in the west of Pará, the Middle Land and Porto de Moz.Here, the Federal Police force has been cut to a quarter of its sizetwenty years ago, and an illegal assault on the rainforest is underway.Assisted by their political allies, a number of companies which haveexploited the legal and bureaucratic tangle to seize land, using amixture of grilagem and physical force, are leading the charge. In the face of the threat to their traditional lands, local inhabitantsare joining forces to propose the creation of Extractive Reserves, areasprotected by Federal law for conservation and sustainable use bytraditional communities. The proposed “Verde para Sempre’ and ‘Renascer’reserves have become the target of angry opposition from logging andpolitical interests, particularly since 400 community members tookdirect action in late 2002 to blockade barges loaded with illegal timberdestined for export.Greenpeace has investigated and documented many cases of illegal andpredatory behavior by logging interests. Yet the landholders who havealready devastated large swathes of the forest are now demanding thatthe government authorize new areas for exploitation, arguing that theycreate jobs and contribute to the economic development of regions likePará. Under pressure from these powerful interests, the Federal andState governments are discussing a new system of concessions.While the debate is reaching the press and the public to some extent,Greenpeace recently discovered that the first ‘authorization of use ofpublic state property’ has been issued by Pará State to a logger inPorto de Moz. Nothing in the contract obliges the logger to do evenbasic regeneration of the forest after exploiting its resources.Greenpeace believes that the real long-term future of Pará lies in a newsocial and economic model of sustainable use of the forests combinedwith areas of protection. Logging companies committed to truly legal,sustainable and certified operations have a place in this future, butthe main effort must be concentrated on bringing governance andenvironmental and social justice to the Amazon. The only way to achievethis is through the strong commitment of the Brazilian Federal and Stategovernments, backed by international cooperation, to empower thetraditional communities and other forest dwellers to become the drivingforce for economic development and environmental protection in theAmazon.

Num. pages: 56

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