June 08, 2009
Brazil moved a step closer to passing a controversial law that would allow landowners who illegally deforested land in the Amazon to get legal title to these holdings. Environmentalists say HB 458 — which now only needs the signature of President Lula, an avid supporter — will legitimize years of illegal colonization and may promote new deforestation.
"This could be a big step backward for Amazonian conservation," said William F. Laurance, a researcher at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute who has spent nearly three decades staying the Brazilian Amazon. "The Amazonian environment is the clear loser here."
The proposed law will enable a claimant gain title for properties up to 1,500 hectares (3,700 acres) provided the land was occupied before December 2004. Critics note the law favors industrial developers over small holders, allowing those controlling 400-1500 ha to sell their holdings after three years. Farmers or ranchers holding under 400 ha have to wait 10 years to sell.
HB 458 would grant land title to 300,000 properties illegally established across some 600,000 square kilometers (230,000 square miles) of protected Amazon forest, more than offsetting the conservation gains of the past six years.
Development interests — including large-scale agroindustrial firms, cattle ranchers, loggers, and plantation forestry companies — have lobbied intensely to get HB 458 passed. Supporters of the legislation say that while it will legitimize land-grabs prior to December 2004, HB 458 move may improve governance in an otherwise lawless region where conflict over land and complete disregard of environmental regulations is widespread.