In Brazil, a showdown over rainforest deforestation
Brazil's president is scheduled to sign a reform package today that could retroactively legalize the deforestation of millions of acres in the Amazon.
A throng of students, young professionals, and activists gathered on the lawn as dusk took over the towering parliament and Planalto, Brazil’s executive branch. They took their tambourines and whistles, promising to camp out until midnight and serenaded the president: “Oh Dilma! You can veto it! Brazil will support you!”Skip to next paragraph
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Theirs was the latest in a series of nationwide protests in recent months over a proposed reform of the 1965 “Forest Code” that will, as currently written, effectively legalize the deforestation of tens of millions of Amazon jungle after the fact and reduce requirements on landowners to reforest protected areas.
Later today, President Dilma Roussef is expected to sign part of the "amnesty" bill into law, though she's signaled that some amendments will be made in response to environmental concerns. But whether they go far enough to mollify an angry movement of citizens and environmental activists remains to be seen.
Agricultural industry representatives say their business is economically vital and that Brazil still has massive tracts of preserved land. Brazil hosts about 40 percent of the world’s rainforests, and its Amazon region alone is larger than India.
But the movement to preserve the environmentally-friendly, though oft-flouted, 1965 code has galvanized citizens in a way observers say no sustainability cause has before – and Brazil’s hosting of the Rio+20 United Nations sustainability conference in June has only sharpened their criticisms.
“Without a doubt this is the largest mobilization for the environment you have seen in Brazil – and this in a country where the environment is so important,” says Pedro Abramovay, formerly the National Secretary for Drug Policy and now campaign director for the social media organization Avaaz. On Thursday, Avaaz gave Rousseff a petition with 2 million signatures calling for a veto of the new law.
Social media and activism
“We’ve always had big protests in Brazil, but it was always linked to political parties and unions. Social networking is making it so that you can join outside of these channels,” Mr. Abramovay says, citing the forest code debate along with last year’s nationwide anti-corruption protests.
Ms. Rousseff, who has ridden a wave of steady popularity since she took over from predecessor and mentor Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva last January, now faces one of the largest challenges of her government. On one side are first-of-its-kind protests from civil society and pop culture stars. #VetaTudoDilma (Veto it all, Dilma!) has been a trending topic for weeks on Twitter and creative banners have been plastered across Facebook, such as “Run, Forest run! Veto, Dilma, veto!”