Brazilian president likely to veto parts of new forest bill

Reuters News
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Posted: May 30, 2012 11:14 AM
Brazilian president likely to veto parts of new forest bill

SAO PAULO/BRASILIA, May 24 (Reuters Point Carbon) - Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is likely to veto some controversial aspects of a forest bill passed by the Congress last month as pressure mounts against the text days before the country hosts a large UN conference on sustainable development.

The bill, a revision of Brazil's Forest Code, grants partial amnesty to landowners who had illegally cleared some of their forests until as recently as 2008, relaxing the legal requirements for reforestation of these areas.

The text also reduces significantly the amount of vegetation that should be left untouched at riversides throughout the water-rich country.

Rousseff has until Friday to decide whether to veto sections of the revised Forest Code.

Two weeks later, the country will start receiving thousands of heads of state, officials, scientists and activists from all over the world for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, the Rio+20.

With just days left before she has to make a decision, sources close to the president say that Rousseff appears likely to veto at least some parts of the bill.

Gilberto Carvalho, a member of Rousseff's cabinet, said the president has been focused on the issue over the few last days.

"It has been meticulously studied, article by article, and there will not be any amnesty to large ‘deforestors'. (sic)"

Another minister, Idely Salvatti, who is responsible for the government's institutional relations, said it looks certain at this point that some vetoes will be made.

"But exactly what will be left out of the text only Dilma knows," she said.

Earlier this week, a group of 10 former Brazilian environmental ministers published a manifesto on the opinion page of the best-selling newspaper in the country asking Rousseff for a partial veto of the bill.

PRESSURE BUILDS

Environmental organizations and the scientific community strongly oppose the text and stepped up a campaign in the last days for Rousseff to veto it.

They fear that proposed changes to the Forest Code could jeopardize Brazil's recent success in reducing deforestation - the single biggest contributor to the country's greenhouse gas emissions.

Some observers said that with all eyes focused on Brazil as host to a major environmental conference, Rousseff may be forced to veto.

"The proximity of an event with this scale obviously adds pressure for the country to compromise to a position that would be taken as reasonable," Alberto Pfeifer, a political scientist at the University of Sao Paulo, said.

The timing of Rousseff's decision on the Forest Code leaves some in the agricultural sector afraid that eventual changes to the text approved by the Congress could be too harsh for them.

"Since the issue is very sensitive, especially on the eve of Rio+20, the appeal to side against the rural producers is attractive," said Rodrigo Lima, a researcher at RedeAgro, a think tank linked to Brazilian large-scale agriculture.

He said the government wants to stick with the existing tough forest protection measures, it should start thinking of ways to relieve the financial burden that such rules would represent for rural producers.

(Reporting by Marcelo Teixeira and Maria Carolina Marcello)