Forest Fires in Porto Velho, Rondônia, Amazon - Third Overflight (2019). © Victor Moriyama / Greenpeace

With the new legislation, the Bolsonaro administration shows that environmental crime pays in the Amazon. © Victor Moriyama / Greenpeace

2019 was a terrible year for the Amazon Rainforest – threats to its survival have intensified, but the situation can always get worse. A new Provisional Presidential Decree (PPD) 910, signed on Tuesday by President Jair Bolsonaro, gives criminals a huge Christmas gift — in the form of a gigantic piece of illegally occupied public land in the Amazon that will now be offered for legal use.

It’s a gift to some, but for the forest and the people who depend on it for their homes and livelihood, it will only mean more devastating loss. 

The new legislation will allow a gigantic piece of public land in the Amazon, that was illegally deforested between 2008 and December 2018, to be legalised. In practice, it means that crimes such as deforestation and invasion of public lands are not only being encouraged but also receiving amnesty and being rewarded by Bolsonaro, bringing severe damage to the maintenance of environmental balance and the heritage of all Brazilians.

The new legal text worsens previous legislation on two key counts. The first, regarding time, is allowing public lands illegally occupied before May 2014 to be regularised, with the possibility of extending it to 2018. It’s a huge blow to the forest – before this, it was 2008 and 2011, respectively. 

The second major issue is that easier steps in the process, which were previously available only to small properties (up to four tax modules of land), can now be used to regularise properties up to nearly four times the size (15 tax modules of land), which is the same as medium-size properties. In the Amazon this amounts to up to 1,650 soccer fields illegally occupied by land grabbers, that would be given legal status.

As with previous land regulation initiatives, such as Bills 11952/2009 and 13465/2017, the new PPD 910 is a false solution: it formalises land grabbing and sends a clear message that crime pays when, in fact, it should prioritise territorial rights of family farmers and Indigenous, traditional, and quilombola populations, and the protection of the environment. 

During the presidential campaign, Bolsonaro promised to undermine the status of protected areas, weaken enforcement agencies such as IBAMA — the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources — and put an end to the so-called “fine/penalties industry”. It was not enough for the President to spend 2019 putting in place an anti-environmental policy; now, he is ending the year rewarding those who have committed environmental crimes.

A survey by the Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM) shows that 35% of the more than 900,000 hectares of Amazon Rainforest destroyed between August 2018 and July 2019 took place on public lands that were grabbed, proving the connection between land grabbing and deforestation.  

The lack of land regulation directly contributes to the increase of deforestation, damages public heritage, and stimulates violence against small farmers, Indigenous people, quilombolas, and traditional communities. What Bolsonaro is doing, only serves to legalise the theft of public lands and the destruction of the largest rainforest in the world.

Brazil needs to come up with a solution that is commensurate with the seriousness of the problem. We cannot accept simplistic fixes to such a complex issue. More than just issuing titles at the first request, it’s essential to organise land management in Brazil, by unifying the available databases and guaranteeing all the necessary structure to land oversight bodies, to provide the right basis for decision-making and ensure the land regulation process is improved.

Stand with the guardians of the forest to protect the Amazon Rainforest. The time for action is now, before any more of the forest is lost.

Danicley Aguiar is the Amazon Rainforest Campaigner for Greenpeace Brazil.