Brazilian congress adopts controversial land use law
Bill makes it easier for Amazon farmers to comply with rules that stipulate how much forest they must preserve, campaigners say
Brazil’s congress voted late on Wednesday to ease rules mandating the amount of forest farmers must keep on their land, delivering a long-sought victory to the country’s powerful agriculture lobby and a political defeat for president Dilma Rousseff.
Though the bill will require millions of hectares of already cleared land to be replanted, environmentalists say it makes it too easy for farmers, responsible for much of the deforestation of the Amazon and other swaths of environmentally sensitive land in recent decades, to comply with regulations that stipulate how much forest they must preserve.
Rousseff still has the option to veto the bill, one of the most controversial to pass Brazil’s congress in recent years. The bill was supported by some of her party’s senators and members of its multi-party coalition, even though the president had previously said she would veto earlier versions of the law that contained provisions perceived as too lenient on farmers who have cleared woodlands for agriculture.
The final law, which was changed dramatically from a hard-bargained version her government was backing, will leave it to federal states to decide how much forest needs to be replaced alongside rivers, making it possible for big farming states to make only minimal demands of farmers.
“The approved bill gives a total and unrestricted amnesty to those who deforested … and goes against what the government itself had wanted,” environmental group Greenpeace said in a statement. “If [Rousseff] doesn’t react and veto this text, this future will be her legacy,” it said.
Pushing through the more lenient language the farming lobby sought was only possible through a rebellion by senators from within the government coalition.
A big enough majority in Congress could also knock down a veto by Rousseff, should she choose to use it.
“We lost. The government lost,” said the leader of Rousseff’s Workers party in the lower house of congress. The powerful farming lobby in congress had fought hard to minimise obligations the new law would impose on them.
The bill and its likely future impact have been watched closely in and outside Brazil, home to the world’s biggest rainforest and a country considered a reference for how other developing nations manage their woodlands.
Pictured: A member of Brazil’s Congress protests against the adoption of the country’s new Forest Code. The placard reads: ‘Forest Code, Veto Dilma’. Photograph: Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters