Brazil moves to claim ownership of Amazon rainforest, improving hopes of protection

The Brazilian government has seized control of vast tracts of the Amazon rainforest as part of a massive criminal investigation into land totalling the size of France and Spain which is illegally occupied or sold.

The Ministry of Agrarian Development announced on 11 January that it has taken back some 13,000 square miles (33,600 sq km) of Amazon rainforest which had been illegally sold off. “This is our first and biggest victory in returning the area to the state in less than 30 days,” said Raul Jungmann, Minister for Agrarian Development. However, his department has stressed that some 400,000 square miles (1,000,000 sq km) of Brazilian territory- an area the size of France and Spain combined and consisting mostly of Amazon rainforest – had been illegally misappropriated and is at risk.

This major seizure marks the beginning of a government initiative to take ownership of illegally sold or occupied land which encompasses 25% of national territory of the world’s fifth largest country and most biologically diverse. There are fears that the rainforest could be being commercially exploited unawareness, as vast areas are so difficult to police, although a new radar scheme is improving the situation (see related story).

Ironically, fake land titles for vast tracts of land have already been sold to US and European environmental groups, who believed that their purchases would ensure conservation, the ministry revealed, although it did not mention the names of any groups involved. One man currently being sued by the government is Falb Saraiva de Farias, who ‘sold’ federally-owned Brazilian rainforest territory abroad under the guise of a legitimate NGO, Forever Green, again for ‘conservation purposes’. The government has already cancelled all of Farias’ land titles totalling some 23,000 square miles (60,000 sq km).

Land reform has been one of the main stumbling blocks to development and a more equal wealth distribution in Brazil. The government’s task is complicated by rampant local government corruption and title claims which even pre-date the nation’s independence from Portugal in 1822.

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