Brazil Supreme Court ruling upholds amnesty to illegal deforesters as cash from bad ag flushes into the coffers of congressmen

28.03.2018

Illegally deforested land shot from a helicopter belonging to Brazil’s federal environmental protection agency

Brazil’s Supreme Court (STF) has upheld several controversial revisions to the Forest Code that will greenwash illegal deforestation and, critics argue, will increase criminal behaviour by ag firms in the Amazon.

Most controversially, the ruling upheld the amnesty granted by the new code to those who illegally cleared in reserves before July 2008. Brazilian civil society has long seen this point as the code’s most problematic provision as it encourages illegal deforestation.

The STF’s ruling means that cattle ranching and crop cultivation can continue in areas illegally deforested before July 2008 without the need for reforestation or payment of fines previously levied by IBAMA, Brazil’s environmental enforcement agency.

The justices also maintained the constitutionality of other provisions deemed to weaken environmental protection in the country, including a new provision that will allow people who previously carried out illegal deforestation to obtain new licenses.

The court’s ruling came as a disappointment to Brazilian civil society. In a critical editorial, the NGO Instituto Socioambiental (ISA) wrote that Brazil will end up with a “weak forest code that is insufficient to promote its potential as a forest country”. ISA also noted, however, that the STF reiterated essential elements of environmental legislation, including the need to protect forests for future generations and to take into account the grave consequences of deforestation to the country’s biodiversity and prosperity.

Greenpeace Brazil expressed concern about the potential for new amnesties in the future. De Olho nos Ruralistas, an advocacy group, observed that the STF’s decision pardons R$8.4 billion (US$2.6 billion) in fines for the illegal deforestation of over 330,000 ha, mostly carried out between 2006 and 2008.

Activists and pressure groups have blamed the powerful influence of the agribusiness lobby in Congress as the main driver behind the new forest code and the recent weakening of environmental protections in the country.

Earlier this year, Reporter Brasil, an investigative media outlet, exposed several congressmen and women, as well as ministers, who had received donations from illegal deforesters. In total, 249 legislators received close to R$59 million (US$18 million) in donations from individuals and businesses that had been fined by IBAMA for illegal deforestation. Reporter Brasil has connected this to recent rollbacks in environmental protections, including the decision to reduce the size of the Jamanxim National Forest.

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