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Viewing cable 09BRASILIA244, BRAZIL: TWO NEW PRAGMATIC STEPS TO ADDRESS ILLEGAL AMAZON DEFORESTATION

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09BRASILIA244 2009-02-27 18:06 2010-12-09 09:09 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Brasilia
VZCZCXRO5344
RR RUEHAST RUEHHM RUEHLN RUEHMA RUEHPB RUEHPOD RUEHTM RUEHTRO
DE RUEHBR #0244/01 0581836
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 271836Z FEB 09
FM AMEMBASSY BRASILIA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 3650
INFO RUEHSO/AMCONSUL SAO PAULO 3602
RUEHRI/AMCONSUL RIO DE JANEIRO 7320
RUEHRG/AMCONSUL RECIFE 9134
RUEHRC/DEPT OF AGRICULTURE WASHDC
RUEHZN/ENVIRONMENT SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY COLLECTIVE
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 BRASILIA 000244 

SENSITIVE 

SIPDIS 

DEPT FOR OES/PCI - L.SPERLING 
DEPT FOR OES/ENCR - C.KARR-COLQUE 

E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: SENV EINV EAGR KSCA BR
SUBJECT: BRAZIL: TWO NEW PRAGMATIC STEPS TO ADDRESS ILLEGAL AMAZON DEFORESTATION 

REF: BRASILIA 123 BRASILIA 00000244 001.2 OF 002 (U) THIS CABLE IS SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED AND NOT FOR INTERNET DISTRIBUTION. 

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: The Government of Brazil (GOB) plans to take two steps - each quite pragmatic - to address the serious problem of settlers illegally clearing the Amazon Forest and the challenge of settlers occupying public land in the Amazon: The first measure - currently a proposal - would reduce mandatory reforestation of illegally cleared land along two major highways. The second, a provisional measure (No. 458), establishes a program to grant legal title to occupiers of small and medium plots of public land. These measures could be an important start in transforming the Amazon from a region where the vast majority of farmers are currently without legal title and/or are in violation of the environmental code. In this way, the GOB can concentrate on the more predatory practices and actors who threaten the standing forest, rather than settling scores with the majority of farmers working land cleared years ago and not likely to ever return to forest. END SUMMARY. 

GREATER REALISM ABOUT PROSPECTS FOR REFORESTATION 

2. (SBU) After months of disagreement among government officials, including Agriculture Minister Reinhold Stephanes and Environment Minister Carlos Minc (REFTEL), a committee made up of representatives from 13 ministries unanimously approved a proposal to change the rules concerning reforestation along two of the Amazon region's main highways (BR-163 and BR-230). This proposal would reduce the areas protected known as the legal reserve (in which native forests must be conserved or reforested if previously cleared). 

3. (SBU) The proposal would apply to those farmers along these two roads who have cleared more than 20% of the native forest on a plot of land and so violated the current 80% legal reserve requirement. In such cases, those who have deforested too much will no longer have to reforest up to the 80% level, but instead just up to the 50% level. Under this proposal, approximately 700,000 total hectares will no longer need to be reforested with native trees and can be used instead for agricultural purposes. The total area affected by the change could potentially reach approximately ten million hectares. The proposal now goes to the National Environmental Council (CONAMA) for consideration and approval. The final step is for the proposal to be presented to President Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva for his approval, so that it can be promulgated as a Presidential Decree. CONAMA should have its final response by the end of March. 

4. (SBU) The proposal has drawn mixed reactions. Greenpeace Brazil's representatives have condemned the proposal stating that "it legitimizes environmental crime." The Ministry of Environment has responded that the change is the only way to shift from the current predatory model to a sustainable one. "We are giving more opportunities for farmers to comply with environmental rules," said Roberto Vizentin, Director of Land Zoning at the Ministry of Environment. 

STARTING TO UNTANGLE THE AMAZON LAND TITLE MESS 

5. (SBU) In another action intended to address deforestation in the Amazon region, President Lula on February 10 signed Provisional Measure No. 458 for the resolution of land title issues in the Amazon. This measure creates the Federal program called "Terra Legal" (Legal Land), which will be managed by the Ministry of Agrarian Reform (MDA). The MDA takes over responsibility for land title registry in the Amazon from the National Land Resettlement Agency (INCRA), which has had a very poor record in this area (See REFTEL). Under this measure, MDA will assume responsibility for land title registration in the Legal Amazon region, which represents a total of nine states and 436 municipalities. It is expected that approximately 297,000 titles will be issued and titles for 67 million hectares of land will be legalized. MDA expects to finish the process in a three-year time span. 

6. (SBU) The program only applies to individuals who have occupied public land (other than those included in protected areas or indigenous reserves) prior to December 1, 2004. Farmers occupying plots up to 100 hectares in size will have the title granted free of charge. A flexible criterion will be used for plots between 100 and 400 hectares in area, whereby the title will either be donated or sold to the occupier at a price set by MDA. If sold, the land occupier will receive a three-year grace period before paying off the purchase price over a period as long as twenty years. For plots BRASILIA 00000244 002.2 OF 002 from 400 to 1,500 hectares in area, MDA will sell them to the current occupiers at the market price, with payments stretched out over a 20-year period. For plots between 1,500 and 2,500 hectares, the occupier can opt to claim a part of the plot up to 1,500 hectares or compete for the whole plot at public auction. Plots over 2,500 hectares in area will remain with the GOB, which may or may not decide to hold a public auction. Also, the occupier cannot sell or transfer title to another person for a ten-year period. 

7. (SBU) All properties will have to comply with the environmental laws at the time of transfer and thereafter. A key requirement will be compliance with the requirement to preserve 80% of most lands in the Amazon Region as a legal reserve for native forests. Environment Minister Minc said that this program is not just land registering, but is "environmental land registering." Minc emphasizes the part of the measure that says that if the Forest Code is not respected, the occupier of the land will automatically lose title. Occupiers will only receive their land title after they have complied with their environmental responsibilities, including the legal reserve requirement. Any indigenous lands, national forests or protected areas that were illegally-invaded will be taken back by the government. The new measure also guarantees that all the registered titles will be electronically monitored to verify whether or not the legislation is being followed. 

8. (SBU) The first actions have already been taken by MDA to start this program. Representatives from the MDA are meeting with the governors of each of the nine states in order to establish the actions that will be taken to register the land titles. For the state of Para, the state with the most ongoing deforestation, a specific state office for the program will handle this program. The GOB estimates that the public auction process for these Amazon land titles could generate up to USD30 billion over time. 

8. (SBU) COMMENT. IMAZON, a respected NGO, estimates that 53% of the land in the Amazon Region lacks clear title. Straightening out land title in the region is widely viewed as a prerequisite for addressing the deforestation problem. However, IMAZON criticizes Provisional Measure No. 458 because it rewards farmers with grants of small, illegally occupied plots rather than encouraging them to make use of already cleared and now abandoned lands in the Amazon Region. END COMMENT. 

9. (SBU) COMMENT: These two measures signal a more practical approach to addressing the underlying problems in the Amazon, where a majority of the farmers are occupying public land and/or have cleared more than the 20% of their land permitted by the Forest Code. The first measure should create an incentive for farmers along two major highways to at least keep a 50% legal reserve, which is certainly easier to comply with than an 80% reserve. The second provides a trade off, the pre-2004 occupiers will receive title to the land, but now must meet the Forest Code requirements. Land title registration has been a historical problem in the Amazon Region. The GOB shows a new flexibility and willingness to solve the problem. Both these measures will require better monitoring and enforcement of environmental rules to make a significant change in the culture of predatory practices. The government's weak monitoring and enforcement to date has given farmers in the Amazon Region little reason to care whether they have legal title or are complying with environmental rules. 

END COMMENT. 

SOBEL