The man who destroyed a vast forest wins the demise of the garden

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) – In a move that shocked environmentalists, the government of Brazil’s third largest state has abandoned a legal battle over protecting a state park in one of the Amazon’s most biodiverse regions. The result of this decision is that the man responsible for deforestation of vast tracts of protected land eventually wins a lawsuit against the government. The garden will cease to exist.

Antonio Jose Rossi Junqueira Villa has been fined millions of dollars for deforestation in Brazil and the theft of thousands of hectares (acres) of the Amazon rainforest. However, it was a company associated with him that sued the state of Mato Grosso, alleging that it incorrectly defined the boundaries of Cristalino II State Park.

The park spans 118,000 hectares (292,000 acres), larger than New York City, and is located in the transitional zone between the Amazon and the drier biomes of the Cerrado. It is home to the endemic White Front spider monkey (Ateles marginatus), An endangered species due to habitat loss.

In a 3-2 decision, the Supreme Court of Mato Grosso ruled that the government’s creation of the park in 2001 was illegal because it was done without public consultation.

The state government did not appeal this decision, leaving it to be final. The government press office has now confirmed to The Associated Press that the park will be officially dissolved.

The loss of the park is a measure of how bad things are in the Amazon today. Not only are environmental laws not enforced, but a court has now struck down a major conservation area. Not only are ecosystems lost, scientists say, but widespread deforestation is harming the forest’s ability to absorb carbon dioxide, an important role it plays on the planet.

Throwing trash in the woods

Before he challenged the validity of Cristalino II’s garden, Vilela’s presence there was already known. In 2005, he was fined $27 million for destroying 11,000 hectares (27,000 acres) of forest within the protected area, local newspapers reported at the time.

In 2016, the Villila family made headlines in Brazil for being at the center of a historic enforcement operation against deforestation in the Amazon, known as Operation Flying Rivers, which was carried out by the Brazilian environment agency, Ibama, the federal police and the attorney general. .

He also accused Vilela of clearing 30,000 hectares (74,000 acres) of public forests in Barra State, the equivalent of five Manhattans. The Brazilian attorney general has described Villella as the worst perpetrator of deforestation in the Amazon region ever.

Legal proceedings often span many years in Brazil. If found guilty in the Barra case, Villala could be sentenced to more than 200 years in prison. He can be fined more than $60 million.

Attorney Renato Morelio Lopez, who represented Villila and an affiliate, did not respond to messages left by The Associated Press on Wednesday and Thursday.

According to the researcher Mauricio Torresa geographer from the Federal University of Pará, traces the Villella family’s “classic text for the conquest of land in the Amazon.”

The way to steal land in Brazil, he said, is to remove it and then claim it. “Through deforestation, land thieves are concretely defining their ownership of the land and are recognized as ‘owners’ by other gangs,” he wrote to the Associated Press.

According to official data, as of March 2022, Cristalino II has lost about 22,000 hectares (54,000 acres) to deforestation, although it is a fully protected area. The devastated area makes up approximately 20% of the park.

Mato Grosso, Brazil’s largest soybean-producing state, is run by Governor Mauro Mendes, a pro-agribusiness politician and ally of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who has repeatedly said Brazil has too many protected areas and vowed not to create more.

Mendez’s Secretary of State for the Environment is Maureen Lazaretti, a lawyer who has worked to defend loggers against criminal charges relating to the environment.

During their tenure, Mato Grosso witnessed one of the worst environmental disasters in Brazilian history. In 2020, 40% of the state’s Pantanal biome was burned by wildfires, the world’s most widespread tropical wetland. Mendes signed a law on Thursday allowing cattle to be raised in the Pantanal’s special conservation areas.

Via email, Mato Grosso’s environment minister said it would proceed with dissolving the park and did not appeal because it was “considered technically unviable”. The bureau noted that neighboring Cristalino State Park 1 remains a protected area and covers 66,000 hectares (163,000 acres) of the Amazon rainforest.

In a statement, the Mato Grosso Socio-Environmental Observatory, a non-profit network, said the park’s extinction set a “dangerous precedent” and that the state government had shown it was unable to protect protected areas. She is evaluating legal options to preserve Cristalino II.

“The public should not pay the price for the omission and incompetence of the state of Mato Grosso,” Angela Kocac, head of the National Network of Conservation Units, told The Associated Press.

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