World Rainforest Movement

Pulp giants wipe out peoples, culture and the environment in Southern Brazil

With the ideological discourse of big capital masquerading as sustainable development and as saviours of the poor, the pulp giants advance on the State of Rio Grande do Sul. With their capital they finance electoral campaigns, pay for misleading advertising and twist public power around their little fingers.

These are documents to adjust conduct (TAC) to allow for the development of plantations from now on, with the argument that the companies should not suffer economic losses. This involves financing electoral campaigns and changes of directors in environmental bodies, in addition to putting pressure on the experts of these institutions to accelerate environmental authorizations.

Unscrupulous company directors, publicly declare that environmental bodies with technical competence must obey the orders of the State government, clearly showing that this is a political decision. The State and Federal government are in favour of tree plantations. The political orientation of Lula’s Government is to increase pulp and bio-fuel production. Eucalyptus plantations contemplate these two interests that must be promoted at all costs.

Rejection of the regulatory document

To analyze the state’s area and the impact of tree plantations, a division into plantation zones was made, according to decisions of the previous State government. This is a document (bill 6424/05) gathering laws, rules and standards to guide plantations, identifying the more fragile and less fragile areas for this activity, in consideration of social and environmental aspects.

According to the demarcation, the state was divided into 45 Natural Landscape Units (NLUs). In a NLU, the environment’s response to eucalyptus plantations is identical all over its area, contrary to the case of hydrographical basins – as suggested by some critics of the division into zones – which present very heterogeneous features.

NLUs were classified as being of high, medium or low restriction for tree plantations. Criteria applied, such as the existence of (Federal, State or Municipal) Conservation Units, the presence of critically endangered fauna or flora (among them the last fragments of native grasslands), water availability and the potential risk of water deficit in the summer, soil fragility, a socio-economic analysis, the record of indigenous and quilombola* territories.

According to these criteria, some eight million hectares were liberated for tree plantations, many more than the million hectares expected by the companies. Even so, both the companies and the state government have rejected the document and many mechanisms have been set up to prevent it from coming into force. Until it is adopted by the competent environmental body (CONSEMA) it has no value as a law, and what would be a framework for the state, has been set aside due to political pressure.

Political pressure in the state has generated the removal from their post of four presidents of the State Foundation for the Protection of the Natural Environment (FEPAM), the state body responsible for authorizations and for changes in the Environmental Secretariat.  The election of a new environmental secretary -an attorney- seemingly wants to exert moral pressure on the actions of the public ministry (from the judicial power) to deter compliance of its tasks in defence of the environment and the population’s rights.

Fraudulent public hearings

The division into zones should be submitted to the population in each of the NLUs during public hearings held in situ. However, the hearings held so far have been full of officials from the pulp companies, who travelled from one hearing to another. The local population, directly affected by the plantations, did not learn of the contents of the document and were unable to enter the hearings because all the places had been taken.

The dates of new public hearings have been set for addressing Environmental Impact Assessments, as a first step in the process of analysis of the Environmental Impact Reports of the companies Aracruz Celulose, Derflin (Stora Enso) and Votorantim Celulose e Papel. The expectations are that the same show will be repeated. Studies that should be carried out over at least a decade –for example the hydrological studies– have been submitted as completed.

Making laws more flexible endangers the environment

Frontier zones, illegally acquired by Stora Enso and thwarting the corresponding national legislation, have been authorized for the plantations of Delfrin –a company bearing a Brazilian name but operated with Stora Enso capital.  Attempts have been made involving parliamentarians to change this law.

A bill aimed at making environmental laws more flexible and proposing changes in the Forestry Law has been submitted at federal level by the rural sector having a marked interest in eucalyptus latifundia, as they consider that this will prevent the advance of agrarian reform settlements, considered by them to be a threat.

Bill 6424/ 05 is presently being considered by the Chamber of Deputies. Among the suggested changes is the plantation of exotic trees in legal reserve areas. Current Brazilian legislation establishes that the area of Legal Reserves must be 80% in the Amazon, 35% in the Cerrado region within the states comprising the Legal Amazon and 20% of the property in other regions of the country.  The Legal Reserve is an area maintaining native vegetation fulfilling an ecological habitat function for biodiversity and/or providing environmental services, such as a reserve of forest products, soil and water protection, pest and fire control and atmospheric carbon trapping.  If adopted, the project will enable large scale plantation of raw material for the production of bio-fuels – mainly of oil palms in the Amazon- and the advance of monoculture eucalyptus plantations in the rest of Brazil.

The expansion of areas under eucalyptus plantations, initially for the production of pulp and paper, will be transformed in the medium term into monoculture plantations for the production of bio-fuels. José Goldemberg, a research worker at Sao Paulo University, affirms that the solution to the energy crisis in scientific terms is to invest in research to extract fuel from pulp, with an energy yield of up to ten times more than Brazilian alcohol.  Today the technology to transform eucalyptus pulp into fuel is still sophisticated and is in the hands of Shell and British Petroleum.  In this way, eucalyptus plantations serve to ensure hegemony and control over agro-fuels. The change in the energy matrix from oil to other products is generating changes in society, already foreseen by the Rockefeller Group, which is consolidating its domain over the planet’s energy matrix.

Fortunately, ants also bother giants

The illegal activities of the companies in confabulation with the state became evident following the signature of contracts with the agrarian reform settlers for planting eucalyptus in their plots under the mechanism of “outgrower schemes”. The contracts should not have been signed with the settlers as they do not yet possess the land. Plantations in settlements were a good marketing strategy.  The companies disseminated that monoculture plantations were good and fulfilled their social function because even the settlers were planting. In May this year the settlers pulled up the eucalyptus trees or saplings that they had planted in the plots.

The Movement of Landless Rural Workers (MST), carried out a march involving 1700 people, between September and November. October 16 was designated as the Day against Multinational Companies and for Food Sovereignty. They camped in front of Votorantim Celulose (Bagé) and Stora Enso (Rosário do Sul) as a strategy to attract the attention of the population and of the government, asking it to allocate public resources to purposes other than the large companies.

This year, Votorantim (VCP) received 40 million reais (some 22 million dollars) from the National Economic and Social Development Bank (BNDES), (which is only social in name). Caixa RS, Banrisul and BRDE stated that they had an excess of resources to finance tree plantations. The pulp companies are linked to European crowns, and in Brazil they receive financial incentives and tax exemptions under the Kandir Law. Thus, ninety-five percent of the pulp is exported tax free. In the State of Rio Grande do Sul, export companies are exempt from paying ICMS (Tax on the Circulation of Goods and Services). In the meanwhile, the population is indefinitely waiting for loans for small tourism and agro-ecology projects and to set up a productive network generating sustainable development.

In addition to popular pressure, environmental NGOs have lodged a civil lawsuit, demanding that environmental laws be enforced and attention be paid to the division of zones for plantations. Lately, the decision of the federal judge, Clarides Rahmeier transferred from the state sphere to the federal organization, IBAMA, the mission of freeing zones for plantations in Rio Grande do Sul. This provision reinitiated the debate. The mayors of some municipalities went to the capital city to question the legal decision. Any change however small it may be, in the plans stipulated by the Government and the companies, generates great pressure from the latter and the dissemination of fantastic economic sums of possible drops in investment in the State.

Interviewed about this decision, Aracruz’s director of operations, Walter Lídio Nunes, stated “We were invited to develop the Southern Half [of the state]. We are surprised that the judge should question a state in which the rule of law prevails. We will fall behind in our schedule.” In fact we do live in a state where the rule of law prevails: the rule of capital dominating the environment and the population. As a result of social and legal mobilization it is hoped that something will change in the current policy. Finally, thousands of ants also have the force to overthrow a giant.

By Ana Paula Fagundes, biologist, e-mail:  More information on the subject can be found in the webpage:

*Quilombola: descendents of runaway slaves in Brazil