Former Brazilian Ministers of the Environment call for rejection of Aldo Rebelo text

23 maio 2011    
Letter signed by 10 former Ministers to be handed to President Dilma Roussef. Text modifying the Forest Law is before the House of Representatives and may be voted this Tuesday (May 24)

By Bruno Taitson

The public present in plenary chamber 8 of the Brazilian House of Representatives witnessed a historic moment this Monday (May 25). Ten former Brazilian Ministers of the Environment who occupied the post at different times in the years from 1973 to 2010 expressed their extreme concern with the possibility that the amendment presented by representative Aldo Rebelo (Communist Party of Brazil -PCdoB-S*o Paulo), which might come up for voting sometime this week  “Any approval would most certainly represent an eventual suicide in the name of short term gains. Something with such serious implications for Brazil’s future cannot be voted so hastily,” declared Rubens Ricupero, Minister of the Environment in the Itamar Franco administration (1992-1994).
The former ministers were unanimous in underscoring the harmful nature of the text that is currently before the house and in defending the idea that the voting on the draft legislation should be put off to a later date to give Brazilian society more time for wider discussion of the issue. “Aldo Rebelo’s amendment is so bad that it has managed to unite Environment Ministers that served in completely different periods and belong to widely different political persuasions, in an appeal for the rejection of the text,” commented WWF-Brazil’s Conservation Director Carlos Alberto de Mattos Scaramuzza.
In the view of WWF-Brazil CEO Denise Hamú the ministers’ initiative is a clear sign of the serious impacts that would result from the proposed changes "It is yet another step and a demonstration of how the proposed text needs to be treated with the great caution and with one eye firmly fixed on the future, so that Brazil can indeed become a genuine environmental leadership. The text as it stands today is actually a threat,” she declared.

Former Minister of the Environment Marina Silva (Lula administration, 2003-2008) pointed out that she hoped it would not be necessary to pressure president Dilma Rousseff to veto the project should it eventually be approved in the parliament but rather to contribute to enabling the Head of the Executive Branch to approve a policy on forests that would effectively protect them while at the same time providing adequate conditions for agricultural production.
"Deforestation in the Amazon has leaped up by 400% in the last few weeks precisely because of the expectation that the approval of the amendment would lead to a pardoning of debts and obligations and permit activities that are entirely incompatible with the conservation of permanent protected areas ", stated Marina Silva, referring to the substantial increase in deforestation detected by the Brazilian Space Research Institute (INPE) in March and April of this year in areas of the Amazon where agricultural activities are expanding.
Former minister José Carlos de Carvalho (Fernando Henrique Cardoso administration, 2002-2003) criticised the text defended by the ‘ruralistas’ (representatives of the interests of agribusiness and big landholders) pointing out that the text was much more of an amendment that sets out provisions on land use than a genuine forest policy, as a real Forest Law should be. “We need to bear in mind that we are discussing a policy that is inter-generational. It is not just the policy of a particular government but a policy of the Brazilian State,’ he declared.
Carlos Minc, who was Environment Minister during the latter days of the Lula administration, felt that the amendment contains so many provisos that would make it difficult to enforce and that the protection of forest areas ended up appearing as an exception in the text. "Approval of this text would be an enormous setback and would totally destroy Brazil’s moral authority on environmental issues on the eve of the upcoming Rio+20 Conference” Minc stated.
Another former minister that vented his opinion was Sarney Filho (Fernando Henrique Cardoso administration), currently a federal representative for the state of Maranh*o  (Green Party – PV) who addressed the possibility of renewed deforestation opened up by the amendment, and condemned the proposed amnesty for large-scale deforestation done by big landholders declaring that: “This version of the Forest Law is evil. The ruralistas are trying to satisfy the demands of the worst sectors of agribusiness and in doing so, jeopardising the interests of Brazilian society as a whole.” Sarney Filho explained the need for Brazilian society to become more involved with the issue and urged his fellow representatives to reject the proposed changes to the legislation.
Paulo Nogueira Neto, former secretary of the Special Department for the Environment in the years from 1973 to 1985 and Councilor emeritus of the WWF-Brazil Board pointed out that the legislation needed to take the serious problem of global warming into account. “Technical and professional know how already exists and it needs to be put into practice”  explained 89 year-old Nogueira Neto who is also a retired professor of Ecology from the University of S*o Paulo.
Weakening the provisions concerning legal reserve areas and permanent preservation areas, conceding an amnesty for all the illegal deforestation committed prior to July 2008, stripping the National Environment Council (CONAMA) of important powers and the suspension of the embargo on rural credit for those that carry out deforestation, among other things, are the main points of the amendment criticised by the former environment ministers.
They announced their intention to meet with the presidents of the Senate and the House of Representatives José Sarney and Marco Maia today (Monday) and on Tuesday with President Dilma Rousseff. An Open Letter will be handed in, calling for the postponing of the vote on the proposed changes to Forest Law and the discussion of a more scientifically founded text that takes the interests of society as a whole into account instead of merely addressing the interests and bending to the will of the big landowners, as is the case with current amendment presented by Aldo Rebelo.
The following Ministers are signatories to the Open Letter: Carlos Minc (2008-2010), Marina Silva (2003-2008), José Carlos Carvalho (2002-2003), José Sarney Filho (1999-2002), Gustavo Krause (1995-1999), Henrique Brand*o Cavalcanti (1994-1995), Rubens Ricupero (1993-1994), Fernando Coutinho Jorge (1992-1993), José Goldemberg (1992) e Paulo Nogueira Neto (1973-1985). Gustavo Krause and José Goldemberg were unable to attend this Monday’s meeting in the House of Representatives.