The man who destroyed a vast forest wins the disappearance of the park


RIO DE JANEIRO — In a move that has shocked environmentalists, the government of Brazil’s third-largest state has backed out of a legal battle over protecting a state park in one of Brazil’s most biodiverse areas. the Amazon. The result of this decision is that a man responsible for the deforestation of huge tracts of protected land definitively wins a lawsuit against the government. The park will cease to exist.

Antonio José Rossi Junqueira Vilela has been fined millions of dollars for deforestation in Brazil and for stealing thousands of hectares (acres) of the Amazon rainforest. Yet it was a company linked to him that filed a lawsuit against the state of Mato Grosso, alleging that he had improperly defined the boundaries of Cristalino II State Park.

The park spans 118,000 hectares (292,000 acres), larger than New York City, and sits in the transition zone between the Amazon and the drier Cerrado biomes. It is home to the endemic white-fronted spider monkey (Ateles marginatus), an endangered species due to habitat loss.

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

The state government did not appeal this decision, letting it become final. Now the park will be officially disbanded, the government press office confirmed to The Associated Press.

The loss of the park is a measure of the gravity of the current situation for the Amazon. Not only are environmental laws not enforced, but a court has now struck down an important protected area. Scientists say not only are ecosystems disappearing, but massive deforestation is harming the forest’s ability to absorb carbon dioxide, a crucial role it plays for the planet.


Before he challenged the validity of the Cristalino II park, Vilela’s presence there was already well known. In 2005, he was fined $27 million for destroying 11,000 hectares (27,000 acres) of forest inside the protected area, according to local press at the time.

In 2016, the Vilela family made headlines in Brazil for being at the center of a historic crackdown on deforestation in the Amazon, known as Operation Flying Rivers, carried out by the Brazilian agency for l environment, the federal police and the attorney general. .

Vilela was also charged with clearing 30,000 hectares (74,000 acres) of public forests in the state of Pará, the equivalent of five Manhattans. Brazil’s attorney general called Vilela the worst deforestation the Amazon has ever seen.

Court proceedings often stretch over many years in Brazil. If found guilty in the Pará case, Vilela could face up to 200 years in prison. He could be fined more than $60 million.

Attorney Renato Maurílio Lopes, who represented both Vilela and an affiliate, did not respond to messages left by The Associated Press on Wednesday and Thursday.

According to researcher Mauricio Torres, a geographer from the Federal University of Pará, Vilela’s family follows the “classic scenario of land grabbing in the Amazon”.

The way to steal land in Brazil is to deforest it and then claim it, he said. “It is through deforestation that land thieves concretely mark their ownership of the land and are recognized as ‘owners’ by other gangs,” he wrote to the AP.

According to official data, as of March 2022, Cristalino II had lost some 22,000 hectares (54,000 acres) due to deforestation, even though it is a fully protected area. The destroyed area represents nearly 20% of the park.

Mato Grosso, Brazil’s largest soybean-producing state, is led 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 pledged not to create more. .

Mendes’ Secretary of State for the Environment is Mauren Lazzaretti, a lawyer who has made a career of defending loggers against criminal charges related to the environment.

During their tenure, Mato Grosso experienced one of the worst environmental disasters in Brazilian history. In 2020, wildfires burned 40% of the state’s Pantanal biome, the largest tropical wetlands in the world. Mendes on Thursday signed a law that allows cattle ranching in private conservation areas in the Pantanal.

By email, Mato Grosso’s environmental secretary said he would proceed with disbanding the park and did not appeal because “it was deemed technically unviable”. The bureau noted that the adjacent Cristalino I State Park is still a protected area and covers 66,000 hectares (163,000 acres) of Amazon rainforest.

In a statement, the Socio-Environmental Observatory of Mato Grosso, a non-profit network, said the park’s extinction sets a “dangerous precedent” and the state government has proven unable to protect preserved areas. He said he was evaluating legal options to maintain Cristalino II.

“The public should not have to pay the price for the omission and incompetence of the state of Mato Grosso,” Angela Kuczach, head of the National Network of Conservation Units, told the AP.

The Associated Press’s climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. Learn more about AP’s climate initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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