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Brazil’s forests wait for Dilma


By Francis McDonagh for LAB

Intro:The battle over Brazil’s Forest Code is going to the wire. LAB has reported on the increasing pressure on President Dilma Rousseff to veto the draft of the Forest Code passed by the Chamber of Deputies, a draft modified by the landowner lobby to remove significant safeguards against deforestation. President Dilma has until Friday 25 May to decide. If she does nothing, the law is ratified.

The word from the President’s people is that she will exercise her veto, but the question is how far. Many specialists, such as former deputy environment minister João Paulo Capobianco, whose arguments we reported last month, say that the bill is so tightly worded that only a total veto will do. The President is consulting her advisers.

Meanwhile, the pressure mounts. In the last few days appeals have come from the Brazilian Society for the Progress of Science (SBPC), the Brazilian Academy of Sciences, the National Water Agency, and the state environment secretaries. On 22 May ten former environment ministers, from almost every government since 1973, made a public appeal to President Dilma to veto the bill. In an open letter they said:

‘The National Committee For The Defence of the Forests and Sustainable Development and different groups from the universities, civil society and the productive sector have shown extreme concern at the consequences of the ratification of the bill approved by the Chamber of Deputies.

‘All are asking for a complete veto of the backward steps contained in the text. These drastically reduce the status of forest protection in Brazil and the system of socio-environmental governance constructed in recent decades. More than 2 million people have supported these concerns in petitions.

‘We ask the President, in accord with her commitment and the aspirations of society, to veto completely any and every provision, permanent or transitory, that:

• indicates to the country that an amnesty may be possible, now or in the future;

• allows impunity for deforestation;

• distorts the definition of forests embodied in current legislation;

• reduces, directly or indirectly, the protection of natural capital associated with the forests;

• weakens the services the forests provide

• makes more difficult, undermines or discourages mechanisms for reforestation;

• or, further, weakens socio-environmental governance.’

The signatories to the open letter were: Carlos Minc, Marina Silva, José Carlos Carvalho, José Sarney Filho, Gustavo Krause, Henrique Brandão Cavalcanti, Rubens Ricupero, Fernando Coutinho Jorge, José Goldemberg, and Paulo Nogueira Neto. This must be one of the rare occasions in which a surviving minister from the military dictatorship (Nogueira) has been brought in as an ally in democratic politics.

In the week of 14 May President Dilma had meetings on three successive days with environment minister Izabella Teixeira and also met the minister of agriculture and agrarian development over the weekend. The signals from the government are that she will veto the bill, and issue a provisional decree (medida provisória) to ensure that legislation is in place until a new Forest Code is passed by Congress. It seems that what is taking up most of her time is fine-tuning this decree.

The most detailed prediction came from Carlos Minc, currently environment secretary in the state of Rio de Janeiro and, as a former environment minister under Lula, a signatory to the open letter. Minc told the Estado de São Paulo newspaper: ‘What is under study is not whether she vetoes it or not, but the scope of the veto. In addition, they’re also studying the terms of the decree, because the decision needs to be sustainable environmentally and politically. There’s no point in vetoing the whole thing and having the veto overturned… I’m convinced that this is what the President will do because I’ve spoken to her about this more than once recently.’ Minc added that Dilma ‘will not let Rio+20 be marked by a position in which Brazil goes backwards on protecting the forest… At the same time, she is taking every precaution to ensure that this decree has political support.’ According to Minc, what will be vetoed will be ‘core articles, where you have the amnesty, reduction in Permanently Protected Areas, removal of protection from river margins and the possibility of having cattle on hillsides, which would create brutal erosion.’

Minc’s comments show how highly political this issue is in Brazil. It remains a mystery why the PT let itself be defeated over this in Congress. Maybe a review of priorities and congressional strategy is another item on the President’s agenda.