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Brazil set to vote on controversial land grabbing bill

by Katie Nelson

May 6, 2021

With PL 510/21, Bolsonaro continues his brazen assault on the environment, human rights, and democracy. 

Brasília, Brazil — A controversial “land grabbing bill” that is up for a vote in the Brazilian Senate in the days to come encourages more deforestation and has the potential to increase further land conflicts in the Amazon rainforest, says Greenpeace International. If passed, the current iteration of the bill, PL 510/21 would encourage more deforestation on protected lands and reward land grabbers. [1] It would legalize the illegal invasion of large swathes of public land including lands that were occupied as recent as 2014, and any deforestation within them, incentivizing both future land grabbing and clearing.

The new bill is part of a suite of similarly anti-Indigenous, anti-environment bills on the agenda of the Brazilian Congress, ordered by President Bolsonaro’s executive office and rejected in full by Brazilian civil society. Collectively, NGOs are referring to it as the “Destruction package.” [2]

In response, Diana Ruiz, Senior Forests Campaigner at Greenpeace USA, said:

 “With this bill, President Bolsonaro doubles down on delivering impunity to large land grabbers under the auspices of creating ‘regulatory certainty’. Bolsonaro continues his brazen assault on the environment, human rights, and democracy. 

“This destructive legislation is being introduced in parallel as two Indigenous leaders face retaliation for criticizing the Brazilian government. Speaking truth and defending nature is not crime but Bolsonaro and his cabinet’s pursuit to criminalize land defenders is a violation of human rights. The administration continues to reinforce forms of oppression and racism as it advances its agenda to exploit the Amazon and legalize its destruction.” 

The bill comes weeks after Brazil and US climate negotiations came to halt as Biden chose not to move forward with a $1billion USD pledge to protect the Amazon. Civil society groups in Brazil and abroad including celebrities, the scientific community and US government officials warned Biden that Bolsonaro could not be trusted. Just a day after vowing to fight deforestation at Biden’s climate summit, Bolsonaro slashed Brazil’s environment budget for 2021 by 24 percent. His administration’s Amazon Plan 2021/2022, published earlier this month, even proposes an increase in deforestation by 16 percent compared to when Bolsonaro took office in 2018.

Previous iterations of this controversial legislation have been rejected and criticized by corporations, foreign governments, and NGOs, and the bill received strong opposition when it was introduced in 2020. Signed by 19 members of US Congress and addressed to Brazil’s now former President of the lower house, Rodrigo Maia, the letter also raised the alarm about the bill’s potential to exacerbate the on-going human rights violations and leave  protected sacred lands vulnerable to  corporate land grabs. In the US, former New Mexico representative and current U.S.Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland drafted a letter expressing serious concern of human rights violations in Brazil. [3] 

According to Brazilian organization Imazon, PL 510/21, would put at least 19.6 million hectares of public non-designated land in the  Amazon at risk and could generate deforestation of up to 1.6m hectares by 2027. This would translate into 1.43 billion tons of CO2 being released into the atmosphere in about a decade — an amount  almost equivalent to five years worth of emissions of a country similar to France. [4] 

Despite a delay to the vote last year, the Bolsonaro administration has continued to aggressively dismantle environmental protections and prevent enforcement in Brazil, even using the COVID-19 crisis to advance deregulation. Meanwhile, Brazil registered record breaking deforestation rates and fire seasons in 2020 [5], Indigenous Peoples continue to face existential threats, and nearly 400,000 Brazilian lives have been lost during the pandemic. Most recently, Indigenous leader Sonia Guajajara, executive coordinator of the Association of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB) and Indigenous leader Almir Suruí, face retaliation from the government for criticizing Bolsonaro and his cabinet over the ongoing mismanagement of COVID-19 and the existential threats to their lives. [6]

Notes: 

[1] The law was originally introduced in December 2019 as Provisional Measure 910/2019 (MP 910). 

A reiteration of it was introduced PL2633/2020 in May 2020, which has not yet expired. This second bill is currently in the Chamber of Deputies. 

PL 510/21 was tabled for discussion on 28 April 2021: https://www25.senado.leg.br/web/atividade/materias/-/materia/146639

The Brazilian Senate’s agenda is available at https://www25.senado.leg.br/web/atividade/sessao-plenaria

Brazil NGOs statement on PL 510/21 from 15 April 2021: https://www.wwf.org.br/informacoes/noticias_meio_ambiente_e_natureza/?78191/regularizacao-fundiaria-nao-tem-que-mudar-tem-que-aplicar-a-lei-existente

[2] The package contains legislative proposals on the following issues: mining in indigenous lands (Bill No. 191/2020, proposed by the House of Representatives); environmental licensing (Bill No. 3729/2004 and addendums, currently in the House of Representatives, and Senate Bill No. 168/2018); and land tenure regularization (Bill No. 2633/2020 in the House of Representatives, and Bill No. 510/2021 in the Federal Senate).

[3] The press release from Members of the United States Congress can be found here

[4] WWF calculation using data from Statista that showed France emitted 311 million tons of CO2 in 2018 (France: CO2 emissions 2006-2018 | Statista) 

[5] Deforestation in the Amazon between August 2019 and 2020 was the highest in 12 years, with 11,088km2, a 9.5 percent increase compared to the same period the year before. The full data from PRODES for all years from 2004 can be found here and here.  

In 2020, the Amazon rainforest saw its worst fire season in a decade and the Pantanal it’s worst since records began in 2002, with 30 percent of the biome burned. An area of land larger than the UK was burned across the whole of Brazil in 2020. 

Official fires data is available at http://terrabrasilis.dpi.inpe.br/en/home-page/

[6] “Brazil’s Bolsonaro vowed to work with Indigenous people. Now he’s investigating them.” Mongabay 4 May 2021. https://news.mongabay.com/2021/05/brazils-bolsonaro-vowed-to-work-with-indigenous-people-now-hes-investigating-them/

Contact: 

Katie Nelson, Strategic Communications Specialist, Greenpeace USA: +1 (678) 644-1681, [email protected] 

Katie Nelson

By Katie Nelson

Katie Nelson is a Senior Communications Specialist at Greenpeace USA.

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