Brazil: If all of Brazil’s wrong way policies aren’t stopped soon…

He drove up behind a flatbed truck hauling logs out of this Amazonian
forest. It was yet another affront to Portela, an environmental
official responsible for protecting this rapidly dwindling national
forest from settlers and loggers, but both Portela and the truck
driver knew where things stood. The driver leaned out and smiled and
waved, casually. Portela gripped the steering wheel and flushed. “I
want to do something,” he said. “But there is nothing I can do.”

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Through last May, Bom Futuro had lost nearly 170,000 acres of forest,
roughly a quarter of the park. At the current rate of deforestation,
environmental officials estimate, half the forest will be pasture in
five more years. By 2021, it will be all gone. “This is a very serious
case. It’s an example of total destruction of a protected area,” said
Brazilian Environment Minister Carlos Minc. “We intend to take out the
cattle. Remove the trucks that are taking the wood illegally.” Last
summer, the Environment Ministry and local environmental authorities
drafted an aggressive plan to use military and police to relocate some
of the park’s roughly 3,000 residents and 50,000 cattle. The 83-page
“evacuation plan,” intended to “reverse the alarming scene of
environmental degradation,” said it would be “difficult or impossible”
to achieve any of the recovery plans without first throwing out the

The plan also calls for erecting border checkpoints to
control traffic into the park and reforesting degraded land. Although
environmental officials expect some form of the plan to begin soon,
Minc has recently proposed adding new protected territory outside the
forest to make up for cleared land and to avoid a confrontation with
residents. “No one in their right mind thinks that we will go there
with tractors and knock down the churches, the schools and the city
itself. We are not going to do this,” he said. “We will not remove the
people living inside of it.” During the last serious police effort to
relocate park settlers, in December 2003, residents staged a four-day
protest blocking a federal highway, burned bridges inside the park and
planted boards bristling with nails to prevent police access. “We have
only God to protect us here,” said Daniel Bernardo da Silva, a
60-year-old resident. “Fear is the law.”

Men such as Sebastiao Alves dos Santos came first to Bom Futuro,
itinerant farmers alone with machetes, hacking through more jungle
than they could ever clear. Santos chose a spot in the forest, and
over the next 14 years, he chain-sawed trees and battled bouts of
malaria, forging a fresh beginning for his wife and 6-year-old
daughter. He cultivated coffee, rice and beans on his 750 acres, built
a wood house, tended 100 cattle, fathered a second child. Others
settled here, cleared roads, built schools, and opened hardware
stores, churches, gas stations and a hotel. “I fought for this. I gave
my blood and my sweat,” Santos said. “We made all this for our
children. They can’t take it away.” One Sunday in December, residents
convened in the settlement of Marco Azul inside the forest for a
public hearing to discuss the growing threat of eviction from the
park. They gathered on wooden benches under a tin-roof shelter lighted
by a bare bulb, next to the bull-riding ring. One after another they
spoke out against the government’s threats to their livelihood. Some
argued that they never knew the area was a national forest until long
after they arrived. Others said they are productive citizens being
betrayed by their country. “Where is the patriotism? We are
Brazilians,” another said. “We will die for our right to stay here.”
Then a thick-necked man in a red shirt addressed the crowd. “So
suddenly the government decides to throw people out like dogs, like
orphans?” asked Ernandes Amorim, a federal congressman who represents
the region. “You together united are stronger than the government.”

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