A damning report by Amazon Watch has shed light on the commercial links between European and US companies and agribusinesses in Brazil connected to illegalities and the powerful rural lobby in the country’s congress. According to the report, the bancada ruralista – a cross-party political caucus of federal deputies and senators who promote the interests of agribusinesses in congress – has actively worked to benefit the agroindustrial sector in Brazil while undermining environmental protections and indigenous rights, and offering amnesties to land grabbers and illegal deforesters.
This post is based extensively on the report, Complicity
in Destruction: How Northern Consumers and Financiers Sustain the Assault on
the Brazilian Amazon and its Peoples. Further details and references
about the congressmen mentioned below and others can be found on the report
For years, a large number of legislators in Brazil’s lower
chamber of deputies and Senate have had close connections to agribusiness
interests in the country. The ruralistas, many of whom are large landowners or businessmen,
currently represent around
40% of deputies and senators. Many of them are up for re-election in
Brazil’s upcoming presidential and legislative elections on 7 October.
ruralista has been notorious for its efforts to undermine
environmental protections and indigenous and labour rights in Brazil. It has
pushed for approval of the PEC 215, a constitutional amendment that would strip
the executive branch of its powers to demarcate indigenous territories and
place them exclusively with congress, a move that would enhance the ruralistas’ ability to
shape indigenous policy. FUNAI, Brazil’s federal agency for the protection of
indigenous peoples, has vocally opposed PEC
In addition, the ruralistas were a major force behind
President Michel Temer’s decree in
2017 granting amnesty to illegal deforesters and the 2016 decree reducing
the size of the Jamanxim National Forest, which also let land grabbers and
deforesters off the hook. In March 2018, the ruralistas celebrated a further amnesty, this
time granted by
a Supreme Court ruling that upheld the 2012 New Forest Code, which essentially
pardoned acts of illegal deforestation committed before 2008. The agribusiness
lobby has also been successful in its push for drastic cuts to
Brazil’s environmental budget, with resources destined to FUNAI, IBAMA – the
country’s environmental law enforcement agency – and the Environment Ministry
cut by over 40 percent over the past two years.
Analysts have linked recent
increases in deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon to the legislative and
policy victories secured by the agribusiness lobby. According to the Brazilian
NGO Imazon, which publishes monthly rates of deforestation in the region,
forest clearance in the Amazon saw a 73% increase in May 2018
compared to the same month in 2017 and a 108% increase in June.
From Amazon Watch’s report, it is possible to get a glimpse
of the political agenda and business connections of some of the bancada ruralista’s
leading members. Federal Deputy Adilton Sachetti, a member of the Parliamentary
Farming Front (FPA) and currently running for a Senate seat, is a soy, cotton
and corn producer from the state of Mato Grosso. He is one of the main
promoters of the PEC 215. Some of Sachetti’s main campaign donors have been
directly linked to illegal deforestation and land grabbing. Sachetti himself
has been charged with corruption over the disappearance of public funds and
illegal seizing of public lands to benefit his companies during his time as
mayor of Rondonópolis.
Nelson Marquezelli, one of Brazil’s largest orange producers
and a Federal Deputy since 1990, is up for re-election in October. Marquezelli
has served as vice-president of a congressional inquiry aimed at undermining
FUNAI while backing PEC 215. He has also backed legislative proposals to roll
back environmental protections on Amazonian forests and legalise land grabbing.
Marquezelli is a major supplier of Sucocitrico Cutrale, one of Brazil’s largest
orange juice producers and a company directly linked to land grabbing in São
Paulo and to labour practices analogous to slavery.
Another member of the ruralista bloc is Alfredo Kaefer, a Federal
Deputy since 2007 who is also running for re-election in the coming weeks.
Kaefer owns chicken-raising businesses and is a vocal supporter of the agribusiness
lobby in congress. He has helped efforts to undermine indigenous land
demarcation processes and strip protections from Brazilian protected areas.
Kaefer has been accused of conspiracy to commit crimes to benefit his company
Diplomata while another of his chicken businesses, Dip Frango, has been held
responsible for the deaths of three workers.
These three congressmen, like many of their colleagues on
the bancada ruralista, have several commercial and financial links to
global markets. According to Amazon Watch, Sachetti’s farms export soy to Bunge
(US) and PHW-Gruppe (Germany) through Amaggi, which belongs to the family of
Blairo Maggi, Brazil’s current Agriculture Minister and one of the country’s
largest soy traders. Sachetti also exports cotton to Otto Stadtlander
(Germany), Noble Americas Corporation (US) and Cottagon Italia (Italy) through
the Grupo Bom Futuro, another business belonging to the Maggi family.
Marquezelli’s customer Sucocitrico Cutrale supplies orange
juice, orange pulp cells and orange aroma water to International Flavours &
Fragrances (US), Global Essence (US), Givaudan Flavours & Fragrances
(Switzerland) and Symrise (Germany). Cutrale Citrus Juice USA, a Sucocitrico
Cutrale’s subsidiary, is one of the largest suppliers to Coca-Cola’s brands
Minute Maid and Simply Orange. Kaefer’s businesses export chicken products to
the Dutch companies Van Aerde Food Group, Ferdinand Zandbergen, Kühne &
Heitz, and Jan Zandbergen, and to Germany’s MPO Global.
According to Amazon Watch, these examples illustrate how
global markets help sustain the economic and political power of agribusinesses
accused of illegalities and their political patrons in Brazil’s congress, many
of whom act in clear-cut conflicts of interest as they stand to profit from
their own legislative agenda.
The current political climate in Brazil has unsurprisingly
led to increased pressure on protected areas in the country. In fact, protected
areas have become the main target of
illegal deforestation over the past year, replacing agrarian reform settlements
on top of the list.
Brazilian civil society has made efforts to highlight the
dangers behind the agribusiness lobby’s undue influence on the country’s
politics. However, many fear that the upcoming elections will further strengthen the ruralistas’ power in congress
and government, potentially leading to catastrophic results for Brazil’s
forests and indigenous peoples.