World Rainforest Movement

Brazil: New legislation allows agribusiness to advance in the Amazon

On 9 July 2008 the Brazilian Senate adopted a provision by the Executive known as a “provisional measure,” subject to the subsequent approval of the Legislative. The provision has been harshly questioned by environmentalists and various political and social sectors in Brazil, including the former Minister of the Environment, Senator Marina Silva. 

During the 1970s and 1980s, the dictatorial governments of the time granted incentives for the occupation of the Amazon, benefiting large landowners who gained strength in the region and illegally took over public land.  This situation led to disputes with the traditional peoples of the area.  

Last June, in a third attempt, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva promulgated the “provisional measure” that became a law (Conversion 09 (PLV) Bill), that had been adopted by the Chamber of Deputies and subsequently by the Senate. With this law the situation of the occupiers of over 67 million hectares of state land in the Legal Amazon – that covers a total of 508.8 million hectares in the states of Acre, Amapá, Amazonas, Mato Grosso, Pará, Rondônia, Roraima and Tocantins and part of Maranhão- is now regularized.

Up until now, the concession of public lands – by the National Institute for Settlement and Agrarian Reform – to private individuals for rural use and without requirements such as calls for bids, was limited to 500 hectare units. The legal measure increases this limit to 1,500 hectares. This implies that regularization will leave 72% of the land under the control of 7% of the occupants, who may farm it or put cattle on it and after three years, may put it up for sale. 

The complaints allege that the measure does not distinguish between peasant occupiers: usually families that have established themselves to work the land (“posseiros”) and speculators – both those trying to obtain the greatest number of plots to subsequently sell them at a greater value and those who have taken over the land by means of violence, usually large landowners (“grileiros”) who have created a real mafia and who concoct documents and deeds in areas that are marked by disputes and deforestation.   

According to Marina Silva, the measure “will mean a process of land privatization, of legalization of areas that have been illegally appropriated [Grilagem: Illegal drawing up of deeds and appropriation of land] with serious damage to the Plan of Action against Deforestation in the Amazon.”

Ariovaldo Umbelino, Professor of Agrarian Geography at the University of Sao Paulo explains: “Another part of this ingenious operation to legalize the appropriation of land of the National Institute for Settlement and Agrarian Reform (INCRA) in the Legal Amazon, has been to take advantage of the increase in deforestation in that region to carry out a new real estate registry. This will enable the ‘grileiros’ who had not yet registered the public land that they had appropriated up to December 2004, to do so now and thus qualify to ‘buy’ land that they had taken over without the need to bid.  Furthermore, the notice in the INCRA website on the new registry, absurdly recognizes already the ‘grileiros’ as ‘posseiros: ‘The owners or ‘posseiros’ of areas greater than four fiscal modules […] shall have to submit to INCRA, between 3 March and 2 April, documents proving their ownership or peaceful possession of the land, ground plans and descriptive specifications with the correct geographical location of the rural real estate’ (http://www.incra.gov.br). It should be noted that the plots of peasant farmer families in the Amazon cover less than 100 hectares each and that the changes foreseen in the new legislation are intended to regularize the appropriation of public lands that corrupt INCRA officials illegally ‘sold’ to agro-bandits.” (1)

According to Greenpeace’s Nilo D’Ávila, “The trend is for the larger and better property to remain in the hands of real estate speculators and of people who do not live on that land. The door for real estate speculation in the Amazon is totally open. And the result of the sum of these actions that the government is promoting will be equivalent to deforestation.”(2)

It is worth noting that the pressure from social and environmental organizations managed to make some improvements to the original measure. Presidente Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva introduced a veto on article 7 of the provision that allowed land to be transferred to legal entities or individuals that did not inhabit the region and who managed their lands using a “front.” However criticism pointed out that this may not be of significance considering that the speculators do not usually act as legal entities.  

The agrarian reform that through mobilization by the people had laboriously been introduced into the constitution, is being “blocked,” according to the words of the coordinator of the Landless Workers Movement (MST – Movimiento de Trabajadores Sin Tierra), Joao Stedile. “Land that should be used for the agrarian reform is being allocated to foreign companies to produce eucalyptus, soybean, cattle and agrofuel,” (3) he denounced, mentioning among others the major companies engaged in eucalyptus plantation and pulp production, such as Aracruz, Veracel y Suzano.

According to MST data, “In 1992, there were a little over 19 thousand large landowners holding over 2 thousand hectares which, as a whole, amounted to 121 million hectares. In 2003, the number of these properties had risen to 32 thousand (almost double) and the total area amounted to 132 million hectares. In 11 years, 12 million hectares have been taken over by the large landowners.” (4)

These are times when a dangerous world process of land appropriation by agribusiness is taking place, as an answer to the financial and food crisis. Governments and companies have launched themselves into the search for farm lands in Asia and Africa, but they are also reaching Latin America. China and Saudi Arabia are interested in acquiring farm land in Brazil. According to INCRA there are four million hectares in Brazil registered in the name of foreigners and over half of this area is located in the Amazon.  

At the present time, the General Attorney of the Republic has filed an appeal of unconstitutionality before the Brazilian Supreme Federal Court against the new law for the regularization of invaded lands in the Amazon region, considering that it violates article 188 of the Constitution which provides that “the purpose of public and fiscal land shall be compatible with the agricultural policy and the national agrarian reform plan.” Furthermore, it affirms in its article 191 that “those who, not owning rural or urban real estate, possess as their own uninterruptedly for five years and without opposition an area of land in a rural zone, of no more than fifty hectares, making it productive through their work or that of their families, and having on it their dwelling, shall acquire ownership.” 

The last word has not been said. Resistance continues.

(1) “A farra da legalização da grilagem”, 03/04/2008, Ariovaldo Umbelino, http://www.mst.org.br/mst/pagina.php?cd=5162
(2) “MP da Grilagem beneficia poucos posseiros com muita terra na Amazônia”, 06/07/2009, Brasil de fato,http://www.brasildefato.com.br/v01/agencia/
nacional/mp-da-grilagem-beneficia-poucos-posseiro

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(3) “MST denounces that the Agrarian Reform is “blocked” in Brazil,” AMARC-ALC, http://www.agenciapulsar.org/nota.php?id=13954
(4) “MST assesses the Agrarian Reform in the country and criticises agribusiness,” 14/04/09, Adital,http://www.adital.com.br/site/noticia.asp?lang=ES&cod=38204