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'Don't take ax to Amazon laws' say Brazilian public

By Martin Leggett - 20 Jun 2011 14:35:1 GMT
'Don't take ax to Amazon laws' say Brazilian public

Brazilians overwhelmingly reject proposals to cut back on the legal bulwarks protecting the Amazon's rainforests, according to a poll conducted in the last few weeks, by the Datafolha polling institute. Nearly 8 out of 10 of those polled demanded that the Brazilian president use his veto to knock back the changes, currently being debated in the Brazilian Senate. The measures - to forgive landowners who have illegally pillaged the rainforests over the last 4 decades - have caused an uproar, both internationally and in Brazil itself.

Heavy lobbying, by Brazil's powerful land-owners and farmers, resulted in the measures being passed by the National Assembly - the lower house of Brazil's legislature - back in May. These groups have a vested interest in seeing the Forest Law, which dates back to 1965, weakened, as they see it restricting their ability to expand agricultural production. 

With the Senate just starting a four-month process of debate on the law, this new poll will add to the pressure on Brazilian senators to amend, or reject, these proposed measures. The president, President Dilma Rousseff, has already said that he will veto any law granting an amnesty to deforesters.

Brazil has had some success, over the last decade, in halting the deforestation of the Amazon. But that progress has been threatened recently by a relentless pressure for agricultural development. Many agricultural businesses see a resurgent land-grab as the best way to boost their production. That is despite the claims of many scientists and environmental groups who believe there is much to be gained from improved productivity on existing farmland - without encroaching further on the forests. The evidence of this poll suggests that the Brazilian public is firmly behind them.

The laws being before the Senate include introducing legal amnesty, for those who have stripped the land of trees - without requiring them to replant the land that they have laid bare. But 95% of Brazilians reject that proposal. Instead, 48% see punishment in all cases as preferable - with 45% saying that only those who replant trees on their land should be pardoned.

Where illegally stripped land lies on Permanent Protection zones , such as steep slopes, hilltops and várzea flood lands, the polls showed that a quarter of people wanted to see all crops removed. Two-thirds would allow them to remain, if proper protection for unstable slopes was put in place. Only 7% agreed with proposed law put forward by the National Assembly, which is to forgive-and-forget - leaving the slopes liable to destructive landslides.

The Senate may well sit up and take notice of this groundswell of opposition. 84% of those polled said they would not vote for a senator who allowed the measures to pardon illegal deforestation to become law.

'It is extraordinary to find out that such a large part of the population rejects the Forest Law Reform proposal that was approved by the House of Representatives recently,' said Carlos Alberto de Mattos Scaramuzza Scaramuzza, of WWF-Brazil. 'Now it is the responsibility of the Senate to hear the voice of the people and prevent this dismantling of the present Forest Law.'

Top Image Credit: © Xico Putini