Brazil Combats Land Clearing With Two Rainforest Reserves

BRASILIA, Brazil, November 12, 2004 (ENS) - President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva signed a decree Tuesday placing two million hectares of the Amazon rainforest under government protection in the form of extractive reserves.

By creating the Verde Para Sempre and Riozinho do Anfrisio extractive reserves in the state of Para, the President has dealt a blow to the illegal loggers and land hungry ranchers and soy growers who clear the forest that environmentalists call the lungs of the Earth.

Extractive reserves are cooperatively managed by local communities for low-impact activities such as rubber tapping, vegetable oil extraction and small-scale logging. They must include fully protected areas, safeguarded by the communities themselves.

Environment Ministery Marina Silva, who worked as a rubber tapper in her teens, affirmed that the extractive reserves will serve the local population of some 2,500 families.

"We will guarantee the preservation of areas and the end of illegal occupations," Silva said in a statement.

Greenpeace, which for years has been fighting illegal logging and land clearing, was delighted with the new reserves. "We are extremely happy with Lula's decision to protect the Amazon and the forest people who live here," said Paulo Adario of Greenpeace in the Amazon.

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Greenpeacers celebrate the new reserves by erecting a sign. (Photo by Daniel Beltra courtesy Greenpeace)
"It's time to celebrate. The legacy of Chico Mendes has been honored," he said. With this decision, the Brazilian government has shown that the future of the Amazon is not in the hands of illegal loggers or soya and cattle farmers. It is in the hands of social justice, environmental protection and the sustainable use of natural resources by the forest peoples."

Last year Greenpeace had two ships in the area where, Adario said, "local communities and forest are being destroyed for profit at any cost. It is a lawless frontier where greed, corruption, slavery and even murder are common place as loggers and ranchers trash the forest for short term profits."

The Verde Para Sempre extractivist reserve is near the city of Porto de Moz in Para state.

Porto de Moz has become the battleground between forest communities and logging companies and farmers who illegally occupied the area. Now farmers and loggers such as the Mayor of Porto de Moz, Gerson Campos, and the logging company Madernorte - who have illegally occupied community areas - will be removed. Only properties with legally valid documents will get financial compensation.

Maria Luisa, who lives in the Porto de Moz region, says the local people have been fighting for their lives. "Many times I am afraid of dying," she said. "They come with guns, knives and I get afraid, but at the same time, I am not. Why? If I was born to fight for my people, for life, if my destiny is to die, I will die for it. I will not stop before all these injustices, to let things go because I am afraid. I am not afraid!"

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The Cargill corporation burns large areas of the Brazilian rainforest in Para state to prepare for soya plantations. December 2003. (Photo by Daniel Beltra courtesy Greenpeace)
She remembers the good old days before the illegal logging and land clearing, before the threats to her life. "Life here was very healthy," she said. "We used to live from our hunting and fishing. I get very sad when I start remembering how it was and how it is now. There wasn't greed, everybody used to live on the land, and everything belonged to everyone."

The extrativist reserve of Riozinho of the Anfrísio is located in the city of Altamira in Para state, a area of 736,340 hectares that borders the National Forest of Altamira and the Aboriginal Lands Xipaya and Dry Cachoeira.

Currently 47 families, about 220 people, live an isolated existence in this region. About 200 families once lived here, but many were banished by squatters, the Environment Ministry said Tuesday.

For two weeks the Environment Ministry hosted three community leaders from Riozinho do Anfrisio - Herculano Oliveira, Raymond Belmiro and August Luiz Conrado - in Brasilia to discuss with the government the criteria for the new reserve.

In one meeting with Justice Minister Marcio Thomaz Bastos they obtained a promise that a "Caravan of Citizenship" would be sent to the isolated region to regularize the legal situation of the people, providing them with legal documents such as birth certificates.

The Amazon rainforest of Brazil covers some 5.7 million square kilometers (2.2 million square miles) - about 75 percent the size of the Australian continent.

Only about four percent of rainforest is contained in environmental reserves, while 20 percent is protected as indigenous reservations.

At the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development, the Brazilian government, the Global Environment Facility, the World Bank, and WWF launched a new program that will triple the amount of the Amazon rainforest under federal protection to 12 percent of Brazil’s total forest area by the end of the year 2012.

The 10 year Amazon Region Protected Areas (ARPA) program sets aside 50 million hectares of Amazon rainforest under federal protection. The protected area will include samples of all 23 Amazonian eco-regions.