Indigenous groups at risk as Bolsonaro encourages amnesty for land grabbers in midst of pandemic

by Katie Nelson

May 13, 2020

A new Greenpeace Brazil investigation has revealed how the Bolsonaro government’s actions — as well as that of the international timber and meat markets — are ushering in the destruction of protected Ituna Itatá Indigenous Lands in the Amazon.

SÃO PAULO, Brazil — Today, a new Greenpeace Brazil investigation revealed how the Brazilian government’s actions — as well as that of the international timber and meat markets — are ushering in the destruction of constitutionally-protected Indigenous Lands in the Amazon, driving deforestation and threatening the existence of isolated Indigenous groups. 

Ituna Itatá — the Indigenous area analyzed in the investigation — was the most deforested Indigenous land in Brazil in 2019. [1] Despite its legal protection status dating back to 2011, 94 percent of the area has been claimed by cattle ranchers, loggers, and miners. [2] Deforestation in Ituna Itatá amounted to a staggering 46.3 square miles between August 2018 and July 2019 according to PRODES — the equivalent to 115,000 soccer fields and 30 percent of all deforestation within Brazilian Indigenous Lands during that period. [3] [4]

The Greenpeace investigation found properties illegally established in the “off-limits” Indigenous lands being used to launder cattle and illegal timber. As cattle continues to be the largest driver of deforestation in the Amazon, one property sold laundered cattle from unknown origin to farms that supply Marfrig and JBS, both of whom are publicly committed to supply chain traceability. [5] A single property in the area had also exported over 3 million dollars worth of “laundered” illegal Ipe timber — a highly valuable tree species commonly found in benches, decking, and boardwalks — to the US and European markets. [6] 

The destruction of Ituna Itatá is emblematic of the state of Indigenous lands in Brazil. According to a recent analysis by Greenpeace Brazil, deforestation within Indigenous lands increased 59.4 percent  in the first four months of 2020 — the highest rate in the last four years — and 172 percent in Protected Conservation Areas. [7] Meanwhile, overall deforestation alerts in the Amazon spanned approximately 2,187 square miles between January and April, compared to 1,125 square miles for the same period in 2019. [8]

We are well on track for another record year for deforestation and fires in the Amazon,” said Adriana Charoux, an Amazon campaigner at Greenpeace Brazil. 

“In the midst of the pandemic, Bolsonaro is doubling down on actions that would effectively disintegrate Indigenous territories and lead to more deforestation for meat production. We need to avert the long term existential threat of deforestation pushing the Amazon past a tipping point and irreversibly destabilizing the climate.”

This increase follows Bolsonaro’s launch of Provisional Measure 910 last December, a law designed to hand illegally deforested land over to land grabbers. Bolsonaro is now urging the Brazilian Congress to vote on his proposal before it expires on May 19; if passed, the bill would incentivize further destruction of the Amazon.[5] Brazil’s Indigenous agency, FUNAI, recently removed protection for undemarcated Indigenous lands, which could be used to support land-grabber’s claims to legalize property under the new law.

Scientists warn that further deforestation in the Amazon could see the next spillover of zoonotic viruses and drive the next global pandemic. They also recognize Indigenous Peoples are the most effective guardians for the world’s forests and that upholding their rights is a critical solution to the dual climate and biodiversity crises. 

“Companies complicit in the destruction of the forests for meat production, timber, or minerals are massively exacerbating the current and future crises we face,” said Daniel Brindis, Forests Campaign Director at Greenpeace USA.

“It’s really a no-brainer: the well-being of our planet depends on the urgent protection of the forests. The Bolsonaro government’s deadly attack on Indigenous People and the Amazon must be stopped.”



[1] DETER/ PRODES data between January and April 2020.

[2] As registered with the Rural Environmental Register (Cadastro Ambiental Rural or CAR), Brazil’s land registration system. Land grabbers often use this system to claim and then appropriate public lands, as they can declare themselves ‘owners’ of tracts of land. An analysis of the 223 registers with CAR found a third of them are for areas over 2,471 acres. This indicates that large, organized systems of land grabbers are behind the seizure. 

[3] Isolated Indigenous peoples are those who do not have permanent relations with outside societies or have infrequent interactions with either non-indigenous or outside indigenous people. Article 231 of the Brazilian Constitution, which grants special treatment to these groups, requires the State to protect isolated Indigenous peoples — but is not adhered to in practice. 

Ituna-Itatá is an “interdicted” Indigenous land home to isolated Indigenous peoples (boundaries and designation under evaluation, use restricted). FUNAI restricts third-party access to “interdicted” lands for the protection of isolated Indigenous peoples and groups. The interdiction of the area may or may not be carried out concurrently with the demarcation process, regulated by Decree No. 1775/96. Ituna Itatá was “interdicted” on December 1, 2011 and its status has been periodically renewed by FUNAI in 2013, 2016, and 2019. 

On September 1, 2019, Ordinance no. 17 extended the status of interdiction of Ituna-Itatá for three years and “restricts the access of non-FUNAI personnel to the land, which has an approximate area of 351,883 acres and an approximate perimeter of 139.9 miles, denominated the Ituna-Itatá Indigenous Land, located in the municipalities of Altamira and Senador José Porfírio, in the state of Pará, with the objective of guaranteeing the continuation of work to locate, monitor, and protect isolated indigenous peoples registered under reference no. 110 — Igarapé Ipiaçava.”

[4] According to DETER / PRODES data.

[5] Among the many landholders illegally selling cattle from Ituna-Itatá, one stand-out example is Lazir Soares de Castro. Castro has two properties on Ituna-Itatá registered with CAR, called Fazenda Mata Verde I and Fazenda Mata Verde II. Each is more than 2,471 acres and both were registered in 2015, four years after the delineation of Ituna-Itatá.

According to GTA documentation, the Fazenda Mata Verde I ranch sold at least 279 animals to the Fazenda Boqueirão da Serra ranch in January 2019 and at least 379 cows to Fazenda Bela Vista in September 2018. However, the property does not have enough pasture to support the amount of cattle supposedly originating from there. Satellite images analysed by Greenpeace show deforestation only amounted to approximately 82 acres between 2018 and 2019, indicating that the beef cattle sold by Lazir were not born or fattened on the ranch — as indicated in the animal transfer document — but were born elsewhere. 

Fazenda Terra Roxa, another property of Lazir, supplied Fazenda Boqueirão da Serra with 373 animals in September and October 2019. Faz Boqueirão da Serra supplied Marfrig from March until September 2018. It also supplied Farm Bela Vista between July 2018 and April 2020. Bela Vista farm supplied Marfrig in February 2019, and supplied JBS in December 2019. 

This practice is known as livestock triangulation, or cattle laundering. An animal is raised on one or more embargoed ranches and then is transferred to a “clean” ranch whose owner’s CPF (Natural Person Registry) is not linked to an environmental infraction and, therefore, does not face any restrictions regarding the sale of animals to meatpacking companies. This tainted sale can then end up in supermarkets with policies against the purchase of raw materials linked to deforestation or crimes against indigenous people. 

[6] Wilson Paula da Mota, listed as the ‘owner’ of the ranch Fazenda Morro Alto according to CAR, fraudulently obtained approval from the Pará State Environmental Department (SEMA-PA) in 2016 to carry out a forest management plan on a property he claimed had no overlap with public lands. This plan, however, described the intention to harvest five times more Ipe timber than would normally occur in nature — as per the logging authorization permit AUTEF 272876/2016, valid until August 10, 2017.  

The illegally harvested Ipe exported with fraudulently obtained paperwork was exported through eight exporters in Brazil to the following destinations: France, the United States, Panamá, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Italy, India, the Netherlands, and China.

Greenpeace’s investigation discovered more illegal activity carried out by the “owner” of Fazenda Morro Alto, who signed the 1795/2016 Liability Commitment for forest management and thus committed to refraining from any deforestation in the area set aside by the AUTEF. Between February of 2018 and November of 2019, 2,100 acres on Fazenda Morro Alto were deforested and degraded according to DETER alerts. This included 1,717 acres within the forest management area.

[7] This is according to the Brazilian Space Research Institute’s DETER monitoring system, which surveys and issues alerts of changes in forest cover spotted by Brazilian satellites. Analysis covers the period January 1 to April 23, 2020. See Greenpeace’s map detailing Indigenous lands and deforestation data for each of them here

[8] According to DETER / PRODES data.


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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