From political coup to land destruction in Brazil

by ATTR, ABRA, CPT, GRAIN | 14 Dec 2020

Liberating the land is not just the farmer’s affair.
Liberating the land is the business of everyone who lives off the products of the land.
(La conversación de la tierra – Pedro Tierra)

It is estimated that by 2050, the world’s agricultural frontier will have advanced by some 70 million hectares. This figure, however, includes a shrinkage of 63 million hectares in developed countries; thus, the total intensification in countries of the Global South will be 132 million hectares. All the remaining arable land for the advance of the world’s agricultural frontier is in Global South countries, and the immensity of Brazil has led to its land and resources being targeted by a new wave of land grabbing.

The boom in farm commodities and minerals since 2008, and the land lust that it has touched off in Brazil, have given rise to deforestation, violence, and land grabbing. Disputes over public land have been particularly intense during this period.

Brazil has been reforming its legal frameworks to facilitate foreign investment in the land and natural resources market. In 2012, the adoption of the Forest Code resulted in the forgiveness of illegal deforestation on some 29 million hectares up to 22 July 2008, and gave the green light for legal deforestation on another 88 million hectares of native vegetation, with a view to expanding the agricultural frontier.

There is considerable international agreement that historical deforestation should be forgiven when certifying production from an environmental standpoint. Along these lines, the European Union’s Renewable Energy Directive of 2018 allows imported products to be considered “deforestation-free” even if they come from areas deforested in the lead-up to 2008. Not for nothing has Brazil become the EU’s prime trading partner in the area of soybean imports.

In late 2016, shortly after the institutional coup against President Dilma Roussef, 26 land-related Brazilian legal frameworks were repealed to make way for the pseudo-legalization of public land grabs. Taking advantage of the state of exception typical of political coups, then-president Michel Temer adopted a provisional measure, later to become a law, authorizing the mass transfer of public lands into private hands. This took the form of pardons for invasions of public land up to 22 July 2008 — the same date contemplated in the Forest Code for deforestation-related pardons. This “provisional” measure was one of the main legacies of the post-institutional coup.

Since that dies mirabilis of 22 July 2008, the country has been legalizing spurious deeds and agricultural conversions, even though they are rooted in a violent cycle of invasion, deforestation, and despoliation of the territories of original peoples and traditional communities. This has benefited and stimulated the land market, facilitating the rapid greenwashing of international agroindustrial supply chains.

The so-called “Land Grabbers’ Act” (Lei da Grilagem) resulting from Provisional Measure number 759 of 22 December 2016 not only authorizes the immediate regularization of some 40 million hectares of federal public land (an area larger than Germany!), increasing the public areas illegally occupied in the Legal Amazon Basin that can be regularized, but also vitiates the nation’s agrarian reform policy and facilitates the introduction of illegal settlements into the land market, resulting in a genuine agrarian counter-reform.

This special issue (available in Portuguese only), a collaborative production of the Comisión Pastoral de la Tierra (CPT), GRAIN, the Asociación de Abogados de Trabajadores Rurales (AATR), and the Asociación Brasileña de Reforma Agraria (ABRA), discusses the principal legal reforms, illegalities, and strategies for confronting these threats to the territories in question and to society as a whole.