Brazil: President Again Vetoes Forest Code

Oct 22, 2012

International protests against Brazil’s forest code have had an impact: For the second time within six months, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff vetoed an amendment of the controversial legislation. The agribusiness lobby has been pressing Brazilian legislators to soften up the law and make more land available for industrial agriculture. Millions of hectares of rainforest are at stake.

The hotly contested proposed amendment to the Código Forestal sparked massive protests in Brazil and internationally. The changes would make environmental requirements for landowners less stringent. Under pressure from the country’s powerful agribusiness lobby, the Brazilian congress passed the amendment in early 2012. The new law would sacrifice 76 million hectares of rainforest to the chainsaws of the timber and agricultural industry. With her second veto, President Rousseff once again blocked the passage of the amendment.

Rousseff objected to nine specific points, including the narrowing of riverside protection zones from 20 to 15 meters, the planned clearance of sensitive ecosystems for fruit monocultures, and the heavily criticized amnesty for illegal logging before 2008. The veto also targeted the amendment’s incentives for further deforestation.

In this respect, the veto came too late: forest clearance figures across the nation rose sharply while congress in Brasilia debated the changes to the Código Forestal. In the state of Mato Grosso, for example, deforestation was up 70 percent in 2011 over the previous year. Throughout the Amazon region, nearly 30 percent more land was cleared.

President Rousseff came into office promising to halt Amazon deforestation, and the increased rates badly damage her credibility. In Brazil, however, policy is shaped by ruthless landowners and lobbyists who intend to continue exploiting the country’s tropical forests. Members of indigenous groups, environmentalists and dedicated officials of the IBAMA environmental agency working to resist deforestation often pay with their lives.

President Rousseff’s second veto of the forest act is also thanks to the hard work of Brazilian environmentalists. Rainforest Rescue is supporting their campaign against the amendment of the Forest Act with petitions, demonstrations and public relations work.