By Ben Tavener, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has vetoed part of the controversial Código Florestral (Forestry Code) legislation which regulates the amount of land farmers in Brazil’s Amazon region must maintain as forest. The President vetoed twelve articles and made 32 other modifications to the bill which included 84 provisions.
There is temporary legislation in place until the vetoed articles and amendments are voted on by the Senate. Environmental Minister Izabella Teixeira, who has been heavily involved in the process, stressed after the vetoes were made public that “legal uncertainty and the unconstitutional nature” of the text gave rise to the vetoes.
Ms. Teixeira added that the text’s main goal was “not to grant amnesty to those who deforest” but to “maintain small-scale [farmers]” who are working legitimately and “make everyone responsible for the restoration of the environment.”
The articles rejected by the President include the amnesty for illegal logging and a section that environmentalists said threatened forest riverbanks.
The bill originated in the Chamber of Deputies and was approved by Congress, which must now review and vote on the vetoes and amendments made by the President before they become law. Those lobbying for the farmers have said the result was not as bad as expected, but that restrictions in the approved bill will stop the chance for food production in the region to be increased.
Deputy Homero Pereiro, who is also President of the Parliamentary Group for Agriculture, praised Rousseff for acting “impartially” and that the bill “was more palatable than predicted,” but he added that the true impact would only be known after further analysis.
However, environmental activists are far from satisfied by the amendments, and argue the bill paves the way for further destruction of the Amazon. They had been campaigning for the president to veto the bill in its entirety, and environmental protests have been a common sight outside the Planalto in Brasília in recent months.
“Brazilians and the whole world have watched a country continuing to play with the future of its forests,” WWF Brasil Secretary-General Maria Cecília Wey de Brito said in a statement.
“The bill passed in the Congress is the result of a tortuous legislative process designed to meet the needs of only the section of society that wants to increase the potential for deforestation and grant amnesties to those who deforest illegally,” she added.
Environmental campaigners Avaaz had presented the government with a petition with nearly two million signatures collected online from people all over the world demanding a total veto.
With high-profile backing from Brazilian celebrities and fervent support from social networks, the main concern for those in support of better preservation laws for the Amazon is that the new legislation does not afford the same protection for Brazil’s globally-important rainforest region as the previous law.
Many believe the President has taken a “safe option” – attempting to placate all sides, at least to some extent, and postponing the tough decision until a later date – and just in time.
The world’s media is set to descend on Brazil with Rio+20, the UN’s biggest-ever conference on sustainable development, starting in mid-June; with this in mind, the government was only too aware of the need for the amended bill to quell as much protest from all sides as possible.
Although deforestation in the Amazon increased 127 percent last year to 11,400km², an area the size of Qatar, it is said to be slowing overall, with better reinforcement of existing laws. The Amazon rainforest covers 5.5 million km², most of which is in Brazil, and of that some 1.73 million km² is under some form of legal protection.