This past week, Brazil shocked the world by traveling back in time to a dark past and putting its environmental leadership at risk.
Media news outlets overseas in the UK, Netherlands, Spain and the US are covering an image of Brazil that the world hasn't seen in years- out of control forest destruction and open violence against forest advocates. Four activists have now been killed since the day of the Forest Code vote. The evening of the vote Joao Claudio Ribeiro da Silva and his wife Maria do Espirito Santo were ambushed and shot in Pará state and police suspected paid hitmen as they had their ears cut off, the typical method for assasins to prove a kill. By Sunday, Eremilton Pereira, an associate of Caludio and his wife was also killed as well as Adelino Ramos, a peasant activist from Rodonia.
Is this violence a result of the new direction of the forest code? It would be premature to say definitely yes, but one cannot deny that a spurt of general lawlessness in the amazon has correalated with congress awarding amnesty to forest criminals. Deforestation increased exponentially, 8 times the rate of the same time last year. The Brazilian Catholic Church's Pastoral Land Commission is urging the government to step in and offer protection to the hundred plus forest defenders who have received death threats, claiming that ""In the Amazon, killing and clearing [the forest] go hand in hand."
These cases of violence make one remember other Amazon martyrs such as Chico Mendes assasinated in 88 or Sister Dorothy Stang who was murdered in 2005.
It is stunning, considering the strides Brazil has made over the past decade, dramatically lowering deforestation and setting an example for other developing tropical forest nations. Brazil had been on a path to fulfill its promise as O pais do futuro “the country of the future,” by showing the world that a country can lift millions out of poverty and grow to be a world economic power, while cutting carbon emissions and embracing clean technology.
With the new forest code bill passing by a wide margin in the Brazilian lower chamber of congress, Brasil is on its way, back in time to its dark past. This is not the image that Brazil wants to be associated with as it stands on the world stage for Rio +20 (2012), the World Cup (2014), and the Olympics (2016).
Its not too late for President Dilma to keep her country on the forward path, but she needs to engage her party in the Senate now and keep her promises to veto the worst portions of the bill, especially amnesty for forest criminals.