Brazil to Conserve Lands Reclaimed from Amazon Squatters


WASHINGTON, DC, March 8, 2002 (ENS) - The government of Brazil has cancelled thousands of false and undocumented land ownership claims in the Amazon region, and will be conserving those lands as parks and extractive reserves.

More than 50 million acres (20.2 million hectares) of land, a little less than 10 percent of the entire Brazilian Amazon, will be protected.


Minister of Agrarian Development Raul Jungmann (Photo courtesy Government of Brazil)
The Brazilian Minister of Agrarian Development, Raul Jungmann, announced the creation of the new protected areas during a visit to the Smithsonian Institution's Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington on Wednesday.

Brazil's Agrarian Reform Institute cancelled the false and undocumented land ownership claims following a parliamentary investigation of squatters on Amazon public lands last spring.

Roughly half of the reclaimed lands have been proposed as areas of strict protection such as national parks and ecological reserves.

These strictly protected lands will be used to implement the first phase of the Amazon Region Protected Areas project, which aims at the creation of 28.5 million hectares (110,040 square miles) of new protected areas within 10 years.


Amazon rainforest (Photo by Martin Harvey courtesy WWF)
The other reclaimed areas will be protected as extraction reserves and national forests, which allow the sustainable use of the natural resources, according to a statement by the Brazilian Embassy in Washington.

In April 2001, when the Brazilian Parliamentary Commission was holding hearings into the issue of loggers and farmers squatting on Amazon public lands, Greenpeace and eight other civil organizations presented a proposal to the commission to conserve whatever lands might be reclaimed from the squatters.

The groups proposed to transform 100 million hectares (247 million acres) of forest, or one fourth of the Brazilian Amazon, into national parks, biological reserves, and areas for sustainable development. They got about a third of the land area recommended in their original proposal.

According to Jungmann, 100 million hectares of Amazon forest were illegally "privatized" by farmers and loggers using fake papers, complacent registration officials and legal, but suspicious judicial decisions. Judge Daniel Nunes, of the Amazonas State Justice Tribunal was accused by the government of being part of the "grilagem mafia," the squatter's mafia. He is currently suspended.


Logging scar on the banks of the Xingu River, a tributary of the Amazon in the Brazilian state of Para (Photo courtesy Rain-Tree Pharmaceuticals)
During its investigations, the commission discovered that one landlord, Falb Farias of Acre state, illegally controls more than 10 million hectares of the Amazon forest. Falb was jailed in April 2001.

Greenpeace Amazon campaigner Nilo D’Avila presented the parliamentary commission with evidence that the lands are being illegally used by the squatters to gain loans from financial institutions. “Meanwhile, traditional communities such as rubber tappers and fishermen have no access to credit lines because of the lack of land titles,” said D’Avila.

“The grilagem speeds the rhythm of destruction, as it directly contributes to low quality development,” said Adílson Vieira, from the nongovernmental organization Comissão Pastoral da Terra, who was also present at the parliamentary hearing. “Besides, the people from Amazon rural areas are forced to head to urban centers hoping for better life conditions, which only increases the social problems.”