May 6th, 2012

A map of the Amazon rainforest up to 2009:
Dilma Rousseff’s fence-sitting over deforestation has become untenable.
During her campaign in 2010 she refused to promise an immediate halt, just to continue the reduction started by Lula. The development/farming/ranching lobby in the Congress seized on this as a sign of weakness and pushed through amendments to the 1965 Codigo Florestal. The Senate version was bad enough. The Senate is presided over by arch-insider and oligarch José Sarney, ex-President, former governor of poverty-stricken Maranhão state, whose forests have largely been transformed into unproductive cattle ranches (see map) under his leadership. The fiefdom continues, as the current governor is his daughter Roseana.

Deforestation for agribusiness in Grajau, Maranhao


The key provision was an amnesty for all deforestation up to 2008, sweetened with reductions in the depth of protected zones along watercourses. Now the old law was widely flouted. Enforcement has always been toothless: in the Amazon, there is one government forest conservation official for 1,825 km² of forest; the administrative and judicial process is excruciatingly long; and when fines are finally levied, the environmental agency IBAMA only collects 11% of them. You may wonder why an amnesty is worth pursuing by deforesters. I suppose it’s the contingent liability: there’s always a chance that some future administration will get tough and, horrors, actually make the law stick.
The lobbies made the mistake of not cashing their winnings. In the lower chamber, they passed extra sweeteners, not cleared with Dilma. She is now widely expected to veto the bill and send it back.

Why? I don’t think Dilma has ever had much in the way of environmental convictions: neither her hard-left background, nor her soft-left career in Lula’s syndicalist machine, have put green blood in her veins. But she is a consummate realist. Brazil has a substantial green electorate and chattering class, which is rightly crying “sellout”.

Dilma is also caught by Brazil’s prestige policy and ambitions to be a global player. It will host a G-20 jamboree in Rio in June on sustainable development. A highly visible cave-in on deforestation, combined with street protests, would be a major embarrassment to the hosts. All the more in that rival Mexico has just adopted a big law on climate change . Even if Dilma doesn’t plan to do anything much in the coming years, a veto would save face in June.

(Bleg: has Mexico really changed tack? If so, why? Upstaging the backward gringos, the delayed impact of Cancun, a distraction from failure on drugs, or just generic common sense?)

I wouldn’t put it past Dilma’s team to have encouraged the overreach in the House to provide a pretext for the veto. Signing the Senate version would have been hard to explain to a world audience.

Hypocrisy, said la Rochefoucauld, is vice’s tribute to virtue. A hypocritical, me-too shift in policy is better than none.

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Brazilian law non-enforcement makes me think of the clameur de haro, a living legal fossil in Jersey and Guernsey inherited from Norman times. Your neighbour is knocking down your hedge with a JCB? Get hold of some witnesses and the press, kneel, recite the Lord’s Prayer in Norman French and cry:

Haro, haro, haro! A l’aide, mon Prince, on me fait tort!

The clameuris a self-acting injunction, and the digger has to stop, on pains of presumably robust 11th-century sanctions.

11th-century sanction?

The Royal Court, representing the Duke of Normandy (aka Queen Elizabeth II) has to meet immediately to decide on the case.
The clameur was raised during the funeral procession of Guillaume, duc et roi, in Caen in 1087, by one Asselin, who claimed he had not been paid for the land where the Duke was to be buried. The procession stopped while his successor Henri paid off the enterprising guy.

Mark Kleiman would I think approve: speed and certainty are part of good law. The Normans were in some ways unattractive, and you didn’t want them as enemies. Still. Brazil could use an infusion of Norman lawyers and politicians who believe in swift, certain and scary justice.

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