It was a big week for important events in law and justice in Brazil, and the forces of the old and new Brazil were at play.
First, the House of Representatives passed the new Código Florestal, or Forest Code, which eases rules for small scale farmers in the Amazon and could potentially lead to further deforestation and expanded powers for agricultural interests in the Amazon. In addition, it grants amnesty for all farmers and ranchers who illegally deforested more land than allowed by the original law prior to July 2008, which would save them from expensive fines. The law still has to pass the Senate and President Dilma's approval (she has said she will veto the amnesty portion), but it looks possible. Meanwhile, recent reports show a spike in Amazon deforestation over the past year, increasing 26 percent from August 2010 to April 2011. Izabella Teixeira, the environmental minister, called a "crisis cabinet" in the midst of the Código Florestal debate. This year, Ibama doubled its police operations to try to combat illegal deforestation, but some suspect ranchers are anticipating a change in the forest code that will allow them immunity.
While Congress indicated its willingness to cede more power to powerful business interests in the Amazon, a terrible tragedy occured in Pará, the heart of the environmental debate in Brazil. Environmental activist José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva and his wife were brutally murdered by gunmen, after constant threats from local loggers and ranchers.
Here's Zé speaking at TEDx last year:
President Dilma has called for a federal investigation into the murders, which are unfortunately not uncommon in Pará.
But trouble was brewing at the Palácio do Planalto this week. Dilma's chief of staff, Antonio Palocci, is now the center of a corruption scandal, as he was accused of increasing his wealth by 20 times while he worked simultaneously as a business consultant and a federal deputy between 2007 and 2010. Dilma has defended Palocci, and he is claiming that the accusations are false, merely a political ploy by the opposition. Given Palocci's position as a power broker and his proximity to the president, the incident has Brasília's bigwigs scrambling either in Palocci's defense or demanding his head.
Then, over to the Supreme Court, where justices announced that they would reopen the case on accused Italian fugitive Cesare Battisti, who is still in Brazil after President Lula granted him amnesty in a literal last minute decision before leaving office. On June 1st, the court will decide if Battisti will, in the end, be extradited or remain in Brazil.
Also this week, the Supreme Court rejected the appeal of journalist Pimenta Neves and ordered his arrest, 11 years after he murdered his girlfriend. Neves admitted to the shooting in 2000, and was tried by a jury and found guilty of murder in 2006, condemned to 19 years in prison. However, he was only in prison immediately following the murder for less than 7 months, and has remained free as he put his appeals all the way through to the STF, which allowed him to stay out of jail during the appeals process. In the most recent decision, his sentence was reduced to 15 years, but the court ordered his immediate imprisonment. The ever-wonderful Minister Ellen Gracie was key to the decision, who said the case is a constant embarrassment in international meetings, claiming it was impossible to justify Neves' impunity. The press has followed Neves'every move since his transfer to a white collar prison in São Paulo, where many other high profile criminals have been or are currently behind bars.