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Parts of Amazon rainforest are illegally sold on Facebook: Report

Some parts of the rainforest that were deforested for trade belong to indigenous communities, which are used for hunting, fishing, and fruit gathering.
Some parts of the rainforest that were deforested for trade belong to indigenous communities, which are used for hunting, fishing, and fruit gathering.

Parts of deforested land of Amazon rainforest in Brazil are being illegally sold via Facebook ads, BBC reported.

Some portion of the rainforest comprises national forests and land that is preserved for indigenous communities.

The scammers try to gain property rights for the land by deliberately deforesting the rainforest plot and burning the ground. This action exempts the sellers from liability or inspection. Once they complete the deforestation, the scammers post pictures of land on Facebook Marketplace to sell to wealthy clients, according to The Swaddle .

Sellers also beg politicians to withdraw the protected status of the land, claiming that it “no longer serves its original purpose,” the Latin Post reported. The strategy often works and allows scammers to walk away with legalized claims to the land.

The BBC report stated that many land grabbers openly confess they do not have a land title, which is the only document that determines the ownership of land under Brazilian law.

Brazil’s cattle ranching industry is also fuelling the illegal trade, it adds.

Many of the Facebook ads allegedly came from Rondônia, a state in northern Brazil. According to the Latin Post, it is the most deforested state in the region of the Brazilian rainforest.

The ads selling the rainforest land can be found by typing Portuguese counterparts for search criteria, such as “forest,” “native jungle,” and “timber,” in Facebook Marketplace’s search tool and choosing one of the Amazonian states as the location.

BBC also reported that some of the plots that are posted through Facebook’s classified advertising are the size of 1,000 football pitches.

Facebook told BBC it was “ready to work with local authorities,” but pointed out it would not take any measures independently to prevent the trade.

“Our commerce policies require buyers and sellers to comply with laws and regulations,” Facebook added.

Indigenous land

One seller, Alvim Souza Alves, had attempted to sell a patch within the Uru Eu Wau Wau Indigenous reserve for about £16,400 (nearly $29,000 CAD) in local currency.

The reserve is home to more than 200 Uru Eu Wau Wau people, as well as five other Indigenous groups who have had no contact with anyone from the outside world.

But at the undercover meeting arranged by BBC , Alves claimed: “There are no Indians [sic] there. From where my land is, they are 50km [31 miles] away. I am not going to tell you that at one time or another they are not walking around.”

The leader of the indigenous community has pressured Facebook to do more to stop further trades.

When BBC showed the ads to the leader Bitaté Uru Eu Wau Wau, he said that the land belongs to an area used by his community to fish, hunt, and gather fruits.

“This is a lack of respect,” he told BBC.

“I don’t know these people. I think their objective is to deforest the indigenous land, to deforest what is standing. To deforest our lives, you could say.”

Illegal trade

Another aspect that stimulates the trade of illegal land is the expectation of amnesty, according to BBC.

Alves told BBC during the meeting that he was working with others to influence politicians to assist his ownership of the stolen land.

“I’ll tell you the truth: if this is not solved with [President] Bolsonaro there, it won’t be solved anymore,” he said of the current government.

One of the sellers Fabricio Guimarães, who was recorded by a hidden camera, said while walking through the burned land of the rainforest that there is no risk of inspection by state agents.

The groups of illegal traders were characterized by Brazil’s Federal police as “an illegal land-grabbing operation focused on invading indigenous territory,” BBC stated.

Two sellers told the BBC reporters that high-profile politicians were aiding to set up meetings with government agencies in Brazil’s capital Brasília.

They said their main partner was congressman Colonel Chrisóstomo, who is a member of the Social Liberal Party, which Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro used to be a member until he discovered his own party in 2019.

BBC also spoke with Ricardo Salles, Brazil’s environment minister who said that “Bolsonaro’s government has always made it clear that he is a zero-tolerance government for any crime, including environmental ones.”

Salles, however, said that the COVID-19 pandemic had hindered Amazon’s law enforcements and that the government of the state was accountable for the deforestation.

“This year the government has created operation Verde Brasil 2, which seeks to control illegal deforestation, illegal fires, and to join efforts between the federal government and the states,” he added.

Nevertheless, Raphael Bevilaquia, a federal prosecutor based in Rondônia, told BBC that the situation has been aggravated with the current government.

“The situation is really desperate,” he said. “The executive power is playing against us. It’s disheartening.”

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2021

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