By Tom Kingsbury | Political Editor
The Supreme Federal Court of Brazil has ordered an inquiry after the BBC reported plots of land in protected areas of the Amazon rainforest were being sold via the Facebook marketplace.
A Justice of the court, Luís Roberto Barroso, has ordered Brazil’s attorney general and Ministry of Justice to investigate.
He has extended a case he was already overseeing to include the illegal activity reported by the BBC. The lawsuit accuses the Brazilian Government of failing to do enough to prevent the impact of COVID-19 on indigenous communities.
What was said in the BBC report?
The BBC began to look into the issue after finding that plots of land in the Amazon rainforest were being sold on Facebook, often with no legal basis to do so.
Many of the plots were sold with no documentation of ownership, and some were in protected areas of the rainforest – for example one seller offered land from within the Uru Eu Wau Wau indigenous reserve.
Some listings also include satellite images and co-ordinates.
The images are often outdated though, as more and more of the Amazon is deforested.
Those selling the land often cut down the trees and sell them illegally, then burn anything left to clear the land, which is sold for farming and cattle ranching purposes.
One logger told the BBC he was caught illegally felling trees in the rainforest twice by authorities, but was only cautioned.
The Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA) enforces anti-deforestation law in Brazil. However, its inspections budget has been cut by 40% under Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.
Deforestation in the Amazon is at a 12-year high, and has accelerated since Bolsonaro took office in January 2019.
Some are trying to prevent the illegal deforestation of the Amazon, though they have been met with violence; in 2019, 24 environmental activists were killed over land disputes.
Ivaneide Bandeira, who has been working to prevent deforestation for decades, said: “I think this is a very hard battle. It is really painful to see the forest being destroyed and shrinking more and more”.
“Never, in any other moment in history, has it been so hard to keep the forest standing.”
What has been the response?
Facebook stated: “Our commerce policies require buyers and sellers to comply with laws and regulations”, adding that it was willing to work with local authorities, but would not be taking down the illegal sales itself.
Nilto Tatto, a member of the environmental commission of the Chamber of Deputies, Brazil’s lower house of congress, asked: “What is the difference between selling stolen land with violence against indigenous rights on Facebook and selling narcotics through the platform?”
The head of the Brazilian Senate’s commission on the environment, Jaques Wagner, called the sales “criminal”, and said his commission would demand that Facebook “review its policy so that this practice is curbed”.
Requesting the inquiry, the Federal Supreme Court asked the government to “take the appropriate civil and criminal measures” regarding the illegal activity.
The Minister for Environment, Ricardo Salles, said: “President Jair Bolsonaro’s government has always made it clear that his is a zero-tolerance government for any crime, including environmental ones.”
twitter Follow @gairrhyddpol for all of the latest updates from the world of politics.