Today in Latin America
Top Story — An environmental activist committed to protecting the Amazon rainforest was shot dead, along with his wife, Brazilian authorities said Wednesday.
Rubber tapper José Claudio Ribeiro da Silva and his wife Maria do Espírito Santo da Silva were shot down by gunman in a small city in the northern state of Pará on Tuesday.
The murder of the couple recalled the 1988 killing of environmental activist and labor organizer Francisco Alves “Chico” Mendes, who was also a rubber tapper. A cattle rancher shot Mendes to death after being denied permission to clear a new tract of land. Killings related to environmental and land disputes are fairly common in Brazil, according to the Pastoral Land Commission, which has documented some 1,150 such murders since Mendes’ death.
The couple worked for an environmental NGO focused on the Amazon called CNS, which Mendes founded.
News of the murders came hours before Brazil’s lower house voted 273 to 182 to pass a controversial bill to reform the Forest Code. The measure would allow small farmers more liberty to cultivate and deforest protected environmental areas in the Amazon forest. The measure would also grant amnesty to those guilty of illegally deforesting the area prior to 2008 (such crimes are punishable by fines).
The driving force behind the bill is Aldo Rebelo, head of the Brazilian Communist Party (PCdoB), who says the reform will favor small farmers. Supporters also argue that the law would help boost local food producers.
Environmentalists, on the other hand, loudly oppose the measure. “I consider it an act of violence against nature,” said Alcides Faria of the NGO Ecoa, referring to the proposed law. The proposal has touched off an international controversy, as the foreign press sounds alarms over the possibility of accelerating damage of the Amazon rainforest.
There are signs that those concerns may be valid. Deforestation of the area legally defined as the Amazon rainforest rose 26 percent over the last two months, O Globo reported. Representatives of the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Resources (IBAMA, in Portuguese) said some infractors operated under the assumption that if the reform succeeds, they will not be responsible for fines.
“If people believe that, they’re completely mistaken,” said Rui Prado of the Agricultural Federation of Mato Gross. “There’s a cutoff date and it’s 2008, so whoever cuts down forest from 2008 to now isn’t getting any amnesty.”
The bill now goes to the Senate and must be approved by President Dilma Rousseff to become law. But the Rousseff administration does not support the bill as it currently stands and threatened to veto it if the Senate does not ramp up penalties for repeat offenders and remove an amendment giving state governments the power to designate protected environmental areas, according to Brazilian daily A Folha de São Paulo.
Just Published at the Latin America News Dispatch
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- An estimated 300,000 migrants cross Mexico’s southern border every year on their way to the United States. A network of shelters has developed across Mexico to aid the migrants in their travels. Photographer John Sevigny visited one of these shelters in the northern city of Saltillo and shared these images with us.
Headlines from the Western Hemisphere
- Mexican federal police Wednesday arrested an alleged drug-cartel leader suspected in the murder of the son of prominent poet and journalist Javier Sicilia.
- Mexican federal police and local authorities discovered a bar set up by prisoners at a minimum-security prison in the northern state of Chihuahua.
- A Republican lawmaker in Louisiana removed an immigration enforcement proposal from debate, due to opposition from the Catholic Church, law enforcement officers and advocates for immigrants’ rights.
- Cuban leader Raúl Castro met in Havana with the prime minister and foreign minister of Antigua and Barbuda to discuss bilateral topics and regional affairs.
- Health authorities in the Dominican Republic began taking down some food stands and installing public bathrooms Wednesday to help control a cholera outbreak.
- A Guatemalan prosecutor, investigating the massacre on a farm in Petén, was found mutilated and murdered in the state of Alta Verapaz.
- After a string of recent attacks toward media workers in Honduras, the Committee to Protect Journalists issued a statement denouncing the violence.
- Panama’s deputy minister of trade said the Free Trade agreement with the United States is imperative to Panama’s continued economic growth.
- In the last week, Costa Rican authorities seized almost 1,000 kilograms of cocaine in two separate incidents.
- Operations are fully restored at Venezuela’s Paraguana Refinery Center, after an electrical failure and an explosion at a cracking unit.
- Victims of violence in Colombia will be eligible for repatriations and, in some cases, restitution of land taken from them, thanks to a pair of laws passed by the Colombian Senate.
- Chevron bosses are facing shareholders for the first time since the company was fined a total of $18 billion by a court in Ecuador.
- A Brazilian hospital said the lymphatic cancer afflicting Paraguay’s president Fernando Lugo is in complete remission.
- Talks have failed to resolve a trade dispute between Brazil and Argentina over delays in vehicle imports.
- Uruguayan President José Mujica announced that he would raise taxes on large landowners in order to boost national profits from farming and forestry.
Image:LeRoc @ Flickr.