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It can’t be denied that the Lula administration inherited a destructive dynamic of occupation of the Brazilian Amazon, a partly corrupt bureaucracy, a macroeconomic policy that couldn’t be immediately interrupted. But he tried to bring the inheritance to fruition. The discourse and the practice of growth associated with a macroeconomic policy of stability are doubly disastrous for the Amazon.

The Lula Administration’s Environmental Policy for the Amazon*

Jean-Pierre Leroy**

            If you understand public policy to mean creating an agreement between different areas of society that understand each other, in order to accomplish something with a government’s will and decision to implement the agreement’s proposals and, in short, bring together the human resources and necessary materials to concretely bring this decision into being, then there is no environmental policy in the Amazon. Only a cacophony of discourses can be heard, and only outlines for actions with an uncertain future are created, when these actions don't die before bearing fruit.    

            The distance between the dominant political and economic sectors on the one hand, and the local forest and rural populations, their representative organizations and the NGOs that advise them, on the other hand, is larger than ever. However, it is worth noting that some entities, in particular some that maintain an institutional tie to headquarters or partner entities located in industrialized countries, are establishing contacts with the private sector. In the social sphere, nothing indicates that these sectors are willing to ensure a dignified space for autonomous reproduction and life for local populations and, in the environmental sphere, it remains to be seen, with notable exceptions, what their interest in the Amazon environment will be, beyond mere greenwashing. Paradoxically, the struggle between contradictory interests is clothed in new strategies and forms. In the south of Pará and on BR 163, popular protests against the federal government’s actions trying to discipline the disorderly occupation of the region are seen closing down highways, threatening kidnapping, and occupying and destroying public buildings. In fact, the timber companies, in particular, move along with a precarious nomadic labor force. Thieves of land and forests, farmers and soy growers hide behind desperate workers. The blackmail of jobs serves as a shield for land grabbing (grilagem) and the industry of destruction.

            In the political arena, the federal legislators (House and Senate) and state legislators predominantly represent the interests of the minority that dominates both the regional and national economies. The fight against the recognition of indigenous rights, against creating, maintaining the integrity of or expanding indigenous lands, extraction reserves, and other conservation units, against the mandatory percentage of conservation required for property, and against the demands for permanent conservation areas is as passionate as it is stealthy. The pro-rural legislators, in particular, work to expand the domains of agribusiness in the North. Important sectors of the federal government, under the direction of the Agriculture Ministry and state governments, headed here by the government of Mato Grosso, dream of making the Amazon the new bread basket of the world. If the politicians who represent agribusiness and/or the economy of the old Amazonian businesses (extensive cattle raising, logging) express their choices crudely, without embarrassment, clearly showing their disdain for local populations, to the point of ignoring them, certain state governments disguise it better, while others develop specific actions oriented toward sectors of the local population. Nothing, however, that resembles the establishment of regional agreements.

            It would be naive to think that the current stage of Brazilian democracy and the Republic and the way capital is accumulated in the country, allow for the establishment of agreements between diametrically opposed sectors. Without expecting so much, it should be recognized that neither Amazonian society, nor the federal government, have succeeded in forming alliances in the Amazon region with even the capacity to sustain a policy that could be for both the preservation and use of Amazonian biodiversity, as well as for the recovery and strengthening of traditional populations, small rural producers and other popular sectors.

            The historic process of extermination of the indigenous population, of the enslavement of black people, of dependence and subordination of the extractors and the social and economic marginalization of rural Amazonians, together with the geographic isolation and near impossibility of these groups being recognized as citizens and of exercising their citizenship, explain the difficulty, until recent decades, of being heard by the more progressive intellectual, urban and corporate sectors. In terms of the State, the Northeastern pattern of patrimonialism and political patronage, and when necessary, the exercise of brutal violence, has been replicated.

            However, the picture is not completely negative. The Ministry of the Environment has developed excellent plans for the Amazon. In particular, we have the Plano Amazônia Sustentável (Sustainable Amazon Plan), the plan for fighting fire in the course of deforestation, the plan for sustainable development of BR 163. The Programa Piloto para a conservação de Florestas Tropicais (Pilot Program for the conservation of Tropical Forests) – PPG7 – will be in place starting in 2007. Terras Indígenas – TI (Indigenous Lands), in particular the T.I. Raposa Terra do Sol, were ratified. Extraction Reserves - Resex, like Verde para Sempre, in the municipality of Porto de Moz, Pará, and Projetos de Assentamentos Sustentáveis (Sustainable Settlement Projects) were created. There are several programs oriented towards small producers, including Pro-ambiente (Pro-environment) and Gestar,  under the Ministry of the Environment, and credit and technical assistance, under the Agricultural Development Ministry. The Public Forests Management Law, in the hope of putting an end to the loggers' plundering of the forests, aims to transform the public forests into forest concessions delivered to private initiative. The bill, still in the final stage of voting at the time of writing, maintains the explicit concern of ensuring a place for the extraction communities of the forest. INCRA (National Institute for Colonization and Agrarian Reform) is continuing to do an exhaustive survey of public lands, a sign that land-related disarray and fraudulent land grabbing (grilagem) have their days or years numbered.

            It is worth highlighting the treatment given to BR 163, the highway linking Cuiabá to Santarém. An effort was made – successfully – to involve the local authority and society in the discussion about a development and conservation project for the area affected by the highway. In addition, the Ministry of the Environment was able to secure the participation of several ministries, according to the philosophy advocated by Minister Marina Silva – according to which inter-group cooperation is the necessary condition for true environmental policies. At the same time, the government created eight Conservation Units around it and enlarged the National Park of the Amazon, in a joint initiative with the state of Pará. The impact caused by the burn indexes in 2003/2004 undoubtedly contributed to the Ministry of the Environment having the strength to make that decision.

            A better and more complete review of existing government proposals and actions should be conducted, so as not to be unfair to the numerous groups and employees who, in many ministries, try to wrest off the straitjacket that they have been put into. Even stating here that the results are small and limited to very small areas, they should not be disregarded, since they are seeds, on the side of the society's struggles, for the creation of a socially and environmentally more just Brazil. Where does this feeling come from, then, that the discourse looks prettier than the reality, and that the actions developed disappear into an ocean of problems?

It can’t be denied that the Lula administration inherited a destructive dynamic of occupation of the Brazilian Amazon, a partly corrupt bureaucracy, a macroeconomic policy that couldn’t be immediately interrupted. But he tried to bring the inheritance to fruition. The discourse and the practice of growth associated with a macroeconomic policy of stability are doubly disastrous for the Amazon. The macroeconomic policy of stability demands a vigorous export policy, in which soy appears as the centerpiece, and it can be presented with the moral of the new redemption of Brazil and the Amazon (and, above all, the rivers of money earned in the easy years by the soy growers, with facilitated credit that flowed without ceremony, enabling the conquest of the territory). On the other hand, that policy encourages strict public cutbacks, which prevent public resources from being directed to the Amazon, and the government, therefore, from having the means to take any action that goes against the dominant sectors. Add to this the promiscuous regional alliances that the federal government has made to ensure a majority in Congress. The record of the burns is the environmental face of the extractors’ and small producers’  suffering when they are not able to make themselves economically viable, with so many either expelled by force or by the appropriation of their lands, and with hundreds of thousands threatened and killed.

            The dam and hydroelectric plant projects at Belo Monte and Alto Madeira, the bauxite mining at Juruti, the increased capacity at Tucurui, the announcement of the paving of BR 163, of BR-319 (Manaus-Porto Velho) and BR-210 (Humaitá-Lábrea), the opening of the road connection to the Pacific, the Urucu-Porto Velho gas pipeline, the pig iron plants at Marabá and in Maranhão, the soy already present beyond the southern fringe of the Brazilian Amazon, in Rondônia, in Amazonas, in Pará, in Santarém, but also on the left bank of the Amazon, in Amapá and Roraima, creating a common front with the timber companies and the cattle raising industry, overcome and erase any aspiration to appropriate development for the region, any sign of consistent environmental policy. All these initiatives are promoted or vigorously defended and supported by the government.

            The difficulties in making social-environmental initiatives viable are enormous. In fact, INCRA, IBAMA (the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources), FUNAI (National Foundation of the Indian), and the Federal Police, all federal institutions that have a presence on the playing field, are unable to monitor and control the conservation areas and the public lands and defend the rights of the populations they work with, in the area under their responsibility. In addition to the frequently reported corruption, a lack of financial means and human resources affects their ability to intervene effectively. The not uncommon occurrence that it is impossible to assert the law and their decisions demonstrates the fragility of legislative and federal power. Their absence or omission is interpreted as a sign that, in fact, everything is permitted. Their cumplicity, voluntary or not, with the “banditry” reinforces the feelings about a State that serves the powerful, and the depths to which the government is lowering itself. ("All politicians are worthy"). Chaotic operations like those that were promoted in Anapú, Pará and BR 163 don’t help, since they are known to be hot air. An ISA study[1] shows that fines are rarely paid. The judiciary, despite being a vigilant guardian of private property, when it defends the interest of producers, even if the property is dubious, frequently reinforces this sense of impunity. Examining the case of the small producers of T.I. Urubu Branco, Mato Grosso, who should have been settled in the Liberdade Settlement, located in the municipality of Canabrava. The Settlement lands are public, under the responsibility of INCRA, which has not been able to evict the land-grabbing soy growers, supported by the state Judiciary, until now, or remove those who are camped out from their misery and despair. The impotence of the federal government is clear.

            On the other hand, in August 2005, the Federal Court of Pará granted a preliminary verdict authorizing the eviction of Incexil, a company belonging to the C.R. Almeida Group, located at Terra do Meio. The latter called itself the owner of almost 5 million hectares of lands in the region, considered the largest fraudulently grabbed land area in the country. This decision came after years of reports, many of them from the journalist Lucio Flávio Pinto, who was persecuted because of this. It highlights, on the other hand, the immobility caused by surprising decisions made by the state courts. On the date of writing, the Federal Public Ministry in the state of Pará and the Federal Police were planning a joint operation to carry out the eviction action, within a week. There is one significant detail: "The preliminary verdict orders that the Military Police not take action for the benefit of Cecílio Almeida, in direct response to the presence of military police officers who act as security for the land grabbers in the region, as publicized by the local press at the end of last year.”[2]

            One has the feeling that the government has completely underestimated the gravity of the disastrous situation that the Amazon finds itself in. The drama lived out by indigenous peoples, like the Cinta Larga and the Xavante da Terra Marãiwsatsede, by rural communities like those of Planalto Santareno, who disappeared off the face of the map when they were overtaken by soy, by the Agrarian Reform settlements abandoned by public authorities, the great fire that took place in Roraima a few years ago, and so many other human and environmental dramas haven't served for anything. The murder of Sister Dorothy, a sad reminder that violence continues to reign, the frightening growth of deforestation, in particular in Mato Grosso, the burning of Acre, the drought of the rivers and the hunger of those living along the river, may manage to upset society and, once and for all, wake up a government whose core does not know the Amazon.

            The main action in progress to try to save the Brazilian Amazon forest is the proposal for the management of public forests. Despite the fact that its creators argue that it does not stand for the privatization of public forests, but rather the creation of concessions, and that local communities will have priority in its use, the Law walks the line defended by environmental economists: "the market will take better care of what is of interest to the State. Common property is not well preserved." The government's bet is that this law will move the loggers away from illegal, predatory exploitation towards legal, sustainable use, and that it is possible for companies and forest communities to coexist. If this terrible confession that it is impossible for the State to care for the public good is true, history will tell us. It would be something new, since the progress of soy shows that the producers (who plant on legal properties and on fraudulently grabbed lands) and agribusiness (such as that crushing company that uses charcoal from the Brazilian savanna for their boilers) mix what is legal and illegal without a crisis of conscience, and that they aspire to hegemony. In the places where they decide to establish themselves, they sweep the other productive alternatives and the local populations off the map.

            The dream or the last hope remains: the city. Let there be Fome Zero (Zero Hunger), police and prisons to take care of the urban influx in the capitals, the enormous gatherings left by the great Amazonian projects, in the cities that grow from the trail of logging and the opening of highways, in the cities that collect those who are expelled by the new cycle of modern cattle raising and grains today and, tomorrow, the refugees from the destruction of the Amazonian greatness to come.

            This scenario is still not unavoidable, since it doesn’t take into account the resistance of thousands of people and families, who express themselves in an impressive range of experiences, alternatives, and projects to build a Democratic and Sustainable Amazon. They suffer from violence and threats, but not as victims. It is because they make trouble for the dominant classes’ odious project to perpetuate their domain and the inequality that makes us world champions in this question.

* The serious question of the urban environment is not addressed in this text.

** Jean-Pierre Leroy, Educator and Executive Coordinator of the Projeto Brasil Sustentável e Democrático/FASE

[1] Source: ISA – Instituto Socioambiental


[2] Source: Radiobrás 06/09