From: Kevin G. Hall, Knight Ridder Washington Bureau
Published November 12, 2004 12:00 AM

Brazil Moves to Protect Virgin Amazon Rainforest

Nov. 12—RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil — Brazil's president this week signed decrees creating more than 7,400 square miles of land preserves in remote eastern Amazon regions where long-term residents are under attack by violent land speculators and their gangs.

The action by President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is designed to hold off illegal lumber harvesters, squatters and speculators who are keen to clear jungle for soybean farms along the Riozinho do Anfrizio, an Amazon tributary that runs through one of Brazil's few remaining areas of virgin rainforest. A second decree protects Verde para Sempre, another region of Brazil's Para State that's beset by violent land conflicts. Da Silva created the designations on Wednesday.

The decrees recognize longtime residents, many of them indigenous peoples, as legal inhabitants, and squatters can no longer use force or fake land titles to take their land. Land now under siege will remain in government hands and cannot be settled for large-scale soybean farming or lumber operations.

Knight Ridder reported in August on violent land grabbing in Para and noted that U.S. companies were promoting deforestation indirectly by lining up to buy and export soy and lumber produced by the clearing of rainforest land.

The new Riozinho do Anfrizio preserve covers 2,800 square miles. The Verde para Sempre preserve covers 4,680.

Tarcisio Feitosa, an activist in Para State with the Land Pastoral Commission, an arm of the Roman Catholic Church, welcomed da Silva's designation. But he warned that armed land squatters, called grileiros, are still occupying land and said the government needs a show of force to accompany the decrees.

"What they need now is a Federal Police operation to guarantee that this land is really for the river-dwelling families," Feitosa said.

The Brazilian Environmental Ministry's chief of protected areas, Mauricio Mercandante, said in an interview that the designation should reduce land squatting.

"Experience has shown that creation of a reserve removes the stimulus for occupation," he said.

Knight Ridder's exclusive report on illegal land seizures detailed how armed squatters had put no-trespassing signs on third-generation river dweller Herculano Porto de Oliveira's land. The Brazilian news magazine Epoca picked up the story of Oliveira, 60, who lives on monkey meat and fish, and he was later helicoptered out of his jungle outpost to meet with top environmental officials and President da Silva in Brasilia.

The news reports "helped accelerate" da Silva's plans to create land preserves in Para, Mercandante said.

© 2004, Knight Ridder. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.

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