Local government collusion with criminal gangs undermining Amazon protections, enforcement chief tells climate delegates


Flames consume Ibama's Humaita HQ Photo: Raolin Magalhães / Rede Amazônica

Collusion between local authorities and criminal gangs is exacerbating illegal deforestation in the Amazon, Brazil’s head of environmental law enforcement has told delegates at the COP 23 climate conference.

“There is evidence of coordinated activity involving local politicians and organized crime,” said Luicano Evaristo, director of Brazil’s environmental enforcement agency Ibama. “When Amazon state governors arrive here and promise, ‘we will commit to zero deforestation’, ask them how many permits they are granting. There is not enough forest for the number of permits.”

His comments come two weeks after the latest series of assaults on agencies tasked with protecting the Brazilian Amazon.

On 27 October, a mob torched Ibama’s office and four pickup trucks in Humaitá, a city in Amazonas state. That night, an office and boat belonging to ICMBio, a conservation agency linked to Brazil’s Environment Ministry, were also set ablaze. Police escorted officials from both bodies to safer locations outside the city.

“We have lost 14 pickups in criminal attacks against Ibama this year alone,” Evaristo said.

See EARTHSIGHT’s previous coverage of violence against enforcement officials in the Brazilian Amazon here

One of the founders of Greenpeace Brazil, Paulo Adario, added that the Amazon is experiencing a “wild west moment”.

“Crime has become the rule in Brazil because the example comes from above,” Adario said at the conference in Bonn.

The administration of Brazilian President Michel Temer has been accused of tacitly endorsing illegal deforestation and land grabbing through its legislative programme.

A bill to downgrade the protections governing 350,000 hectares of Jamanxim National Forest is currently making its way through the Brazilian parliament. Similar boundary changes have been used to greenwash illegal deforestationfor beef.

In July, a law altered a land registration programme by bringing forward the cut-off date after which land could not be registered, seen as helping legitimise land grabs. The bill also removed a regulation which stripped claimants of their title to land if they cleared it of forest.

Campaigners warn that an effect of such measures is to create a sense of impunity, incentivising future illegality.

“The state, which has responsibility not only for upholding the law but also for protecting 70 million hectares [of Amazon rainforest], is sending the message that crime can be rehabilitated, and that illegal activity is tolerated,” Marcio Astrini of Greenpeace Brazil said at the talk in Bonn.

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