My friend Peter Myers sent me this update from the Amazon, where Greenpeace activists confronted Brazilian President Lula last week, demanding he do more to stop bandit loggers in that country.
THE AMAZON - A GANGSTERS PARADISE
GREENPEACE CONFRONTS PRESIDENT LULA TO DEMAND JUSTICE
Brasília, Brazil, 28 November 2003 -- While the Brazilian Government begins civilised discussions on the first day of the National Environment Conference in Brasilia, Greenpeace activists brought the stark contrast of the lawlessness in parts of the Amazon to their doorstep this morning. President Lula's opening speech was interrupted when activists were able to enter the conference hall and deliver their message: "Justice in the Amazon: Extractive Reserve now!"
The conference is due to last three days this week. Over the course of just three days in Para State last week, 300 "bandit" loggers held approximately 20 agents from IBAMA, the federal police and the army hostage; threatened murder and arson against local community leaders; and staged a mid-stream stand off with the Greenpeace ship in Porto de Moz last week.
Para State has seen the worst violence of any part of the Amazon and is the subject of an in-depth Greenpeace investigation. Greenpeace has been working alongside local communities in a drive to create the extractive reserve Verde para Sempre (Green Forever) in the Porto de Moz region. The creation of Verde para Sempre will benefit more than 15,000 people in 60 rural communities.
Brazil's Environment Agency (IBAMA) started a field operation three weeks ago to inspect logging operations. They have come under attack from local loggers, as have local communities and the Greenpeace team working in the region on board the environmental group's vessel MV Arctic Sunrise.
The loggers are demanding that the government forces IBAMA to withdraw from the region, writes off fines that have already been imposed for logging violations and overturns IBAMA inspectors' decisions to cancel their rights to log in their Forest Management Plan areas. In addition they are also demanding more land for their logging operations.
"The loggers, who are already illegally destroying public lands, now want the government to reward them for their crimes," said Nilo D'Avila, Greenpeace Amazon Campaigner. "The Brazilian government should not negotiate. If they back down, they will fail in their mandate to guarantee law and order, and will undermine the basic right of thousands of Brazilians: the right to a sustainable and secure future."
The traditional lands of the communities are being systematically occupied by loggers and grileiros (land grabbers) using tactics of intimidation and violence. Between 1985 and 2001, 40 percent of the 1,237 rural workers assassinated in Brazil were murdered in Para State, according to data from CPT (The Pastoral Land Commission). CPT also records lists of people under threat of death. Of the 78 names listed in Para, eight are from Porto de Moz.
Yesterday Greenpeace delivered a letter to the Minister of Justice, Marcio Thomaz Bastos, asking the Brazilian Government to ensure the safety of those working in the region to protect the forest and communities as well as the federal agents and the Greenpeace team.
"Lula should be sending more federal agents to strengthen the presence of IBAMA and the police in this lawless region," added D'Avila. "We also ask that he immediately approves the establishment of the extractive reserve Verde para Sempre, and guarantees the basic human and civil rights of the people of Porto de Moz: to live in peace on the land, and to conserve and protect these lands for the future of their children and for Brazil itself."
Greenpeace is urging companies to immediately stop buying wood from Porto de Moz and the Prainha region, because most of the wood comes from illegal and crime-related areas.