True crime is jeopardizing the future of the Amazon, but indigenous groups and Brazil’s police are fighting back – together

Steve Schwartzman – Environmental Defense Fund, 07/13/2016

A new operation against land grabbers and illegal loggers in Brazil’s state of Pará is showing how collaboration between indigenous and forest communities and law enforcement can take on the biggest ongoing threats to the Amazon forest: illegal logging and illegal deforestation for land grabbing.

Launched June 30th, the operation started with an investigation two years ago after leaders from the Kayapô indigenous group reported clandestine deforestation on the western border of their territory to the Brazilian federal environmental enforcement agency, IBAMA.

Guided by the Indians, IBAMA agents discovered encampments of workers who were clearing the forest in the indigenous territory and on adjacent public land, while leaving the tallest trees; this hid the illegal deforestation from satellite monitoring. The workers, who according to police labored under semi-slave conditions, would then burn the understory and plant pasture grass. Meanwhile, another part of the gang surveyed and forged land registry documents to sell the land. IBAMA agents shut down the camps, detained personnel and issued fines – and brought in the Prosecutor’s Office and Federal Police to investigate.

Jaguar Shot Dead After Olympic Torch Event in Brazil

Austin Ramzy – The New York Times, 06/22/2016

A soldier in Brazil has shot and killed a jaguar who was used in an Olympic torch event this week, prompting an outpouring of anger from animal lovers and a public apology from the local Games organizing committee.

The jaguar, a 17-year-old female named Juma, was kept at a zoo that is part of a military base in Manaus, the largest city in the Brazilian Amazon.

She apparently escaped an enclosure on Monday but was not at risk of fleeing the zoo. The military said in a statement that Juma had been tranquilized but was shot after she moved toward a soldier, and that the action was taken to protect a team that was trying to recapture her.

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Brazil’s new government may be less likely to protect the Amazon, critics say

Dom Phillips and Nick Miroff – The Washington Post, 05/22/2016

Signs of a rightward turn by Brazil’s new government have alarmed conservationists and climate change activists who fear a rollback of environmental laws that could accelerate deforestation in the Amazon basin.

With Brazil’s economy in its worst slump since the 1930s, new leader Michel Temer took power this month promising a more business-friendly agenda to spur growth. Temer named a ­conservative-leaning cabinet whose members include figures with close ties to powerful landowners and agribusiness companies.

Temer has taken control in South America’s largest nation — and the world’s biggest rain forest — at a time when Brazilian lawmakers are considering a major overhaul of environmental laws. This includes a controversial constitutional amendment known as PEC 65 that would reduce licensing requirements for development projects and limit judicial oversight of their impact.

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A bold and beautiful portrait of Brazil

Nicole Crowder – The Washington Post, 04/22/2015

Ahead of the upcoming 2016 Olympics to be held in Rio de Janeiro, Washington Post staff photographer Bonnie Jo Mount traveled to Piquiá de Baixo to document a community of residents in clay-brick and wooden houses suffering from the heavy pollution from nearby pig iron factories and the noisy Carajás railway that runs through the Amazon region transporting ore.

Away from the busy rail tracks and gathering dust, Mount documented a more personal portrait of the country via her Instagram, one that reflects a serene, even majestic Brazil. Vibrant tiles jut out from a red wall near contrasting green glass window shutters in Rio. A young man walks past a facade of wooden blue doors and iron balconies, oxidized over time by the elements in the historic district of São Luís. And while the southern coastal region of the country has suffered one of its most severe droughts in nearly 80 years, Mount’s vignettes are able to capture the soul and beauty of Brazilian landscapes, from its energetic beaches of Ipanema to aerials of the Amazon rainforest.

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Brazil’s deforestation rates are on the rise again

Richard Schiffman – Newsweek, 3/22/2015

In a world hungry for environmental success stories, Brazil has been the closest thing we have to a golden child. The nation, Latin America’s largest economy, has been growing at an impressive clip, weathering the global financial crisis while cutting deforestation rates in the Amazon to historic lows. Citing its success in protecting the earth’s largest rain forest, President Dilma Rousseff boasted that Brazil is “one of the most advanced countries” for sustainable development, on World Environment Day last June.

But it is too soon to declare victory in the Amazon. Corruption, lawlessness and massive land fraud are now threatening those gains, and an aggressive new development push in the region may soon open remote areas of the forest to being cut.

Between 2005 and 2010, Brazil’s greenhouse gas emissions plunged by 39 percent, declining faster than in any other country. Brazil accomplished this by slashing its deforestation rate by more than three-quarters, mostly in the Amazon basin. (Burning forests to clear them is the second biggest source of greenhouse gases after the combustion of fossil fuels, accounting for 30 percent of the carbon dioxide produced by human activities, according to one U.N. study.)

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Brazil’s king of deforestation dethroned in drive to beat land clearers

Jonathan Watts – The Guardian, 3/2/2015

For most of the past six years, Ezequiel Antônio Castanha had seemed a pillar of the community in the small Amazonian city of Novo Progresso. As the owner of a supermarket, hotel and car dealership, he provided more jobs than anyone else. Outside his municipality, few had heard of him. Neighbours described him as a “pessoa normal” (regular guy).

Today, however, the thick-set, middle-aged man sits in jail with a notoriety across Brazil as a Tony Soprano-like character whose businesses were used to launder money from one of the biggest land clearance syndicates ever uncovered.

Castanha was arrested last weekend, along with 15 associates, in what has been hailed as a major breakthrough for environmental enforcement. The local media have described the detainee as the “king of deforestation”. According to the environment ministry Ibama, he and his gang were responsible for about 10% of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon last year.

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