By Sarah de Sainte Croix, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The Federal Senate’s Environmental Commission concluded voting on the new Brazilian Forestry Code last Friday. The overall outline of the text was approved on Wednesday, and the following day the commission voted on amendments to 77 key details, of which only a handful were approved for incorporation into the new Forestry Code document.
“It’s a great document for the environment, [and] for Brazil, and it will give farmers the security they need to work within the law,” said Senator Jorge Viana of the northwestern state of Acre, after the voting had taken place.
Prior to last Thursday’s vote, the revised code had already passed through the Chamber of Deputies, the Commissions for Justice, Agriculture, and Science and Technology, and it will now undergo a full Senate vote expected to take place in the coming week.
Following this, the document will be sent back to the Chamber of Deputies to approve the amendments that have been made since their initial approval. They are permitted to reject any of these amendments, in part or in full, but they may not make any new alterations.
The final stage is for the document to be sanctioned by President Rousseff before the new code can become law.
The proposed “modernization” of the original 1965 Forestry Code has generated fierce debate between environmentalists and farmers and land owners over the past year.
The main objection to the new code is that it grants amnesty to those who have deforested illegally prior to 2008, and environmental groups argue that this promotes further deforestation if land owners believe that there is a chance of future amnesties further down the line.
Farmers and land owners, on the other hand, say that it has been practically impossible to keep up with the numerous alterations to the Forestry Code that have been exacted over the years, causing them to unwittingly commit criminal acts. These changes include 61 “temporary measures” with varying expiration dates before 2001, and dozens of presidential decrees issued over the last ten years.
They argue that what was legal practice one day would suddenly become illegal the next, with very little communication of the changes.
They also complain that the code stifles agricultural production and therefore economic development in the Amazon region, by requiring land owners to set aside at least eighty percent of their land for environmental preservation with no financial remuneration.
Whereas in other parts of the country, such as the wealthy states of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, the set aside requirement is just twenty percent. So far, however, these requirements look set to remain intact.
Greenpeace are calling the new code the “end of the forest” and are asking President Rousseff to, “Remember the promises she made to voters [when she was elected], that she wouldn’t allow more deforestation,” imploring, “There is still time.”
On Friday, in a speech to the Senate, Viana concluded, “Some people try to complicate the issue, which is normal, but in the cold light of day [“mas à letra fria do que está escrito”], when people look, even through passionate eyes [“mesmo com paixões”], they will see that we have maintained all the rigor of the 1965 Forestry Code.”