Amazon militarized in wake of assassination

In the global outcry over the slaying of US nun Dorothy Stang, a local crusader for the Amazon rainforest and its threatened peasants and Indians, Brazil’s President Luis Inacio da Silva signed a decree Feb. 17 creating two vast protected areas in the forest. Part of the Amazon Region Protected Areas (ARPA) initiative sponsored by the World Bank and World Wildlife Fund, the new protected area includes the 8.3 million-acre Terra do Meio Ecological Station and the 1.1 million-acre Serra do Pardo National Park in the eastern sector of the central Amazon. "Conservation in the Amazon takes a giant step forward with this decree," said Carter Roberts, WWF’s chief conservation officer. (WWF press release, Feb. 18)

Brazil has mobilized 2,000 army troops to Para state since the assassination. But Rosana da Costa of the Amazon Institute of Environmental Research (IPAM) doubts that they will be able to keep the peace, calling the region a "powder keg." There has been a huge influx of settlers since the Trans-Amazonian Highway opened in the ’70s, and they are now being followed by so-called "grileiros"—ranchers, speculators and timbermen who use fraud and hired gunmen to force the settlers from their lands, resulting in both an atmosphere of pervasive violence and further destruction of the forest. Da Costa warns that the preservation initiatives will prove fruitless if the government goes ahead with plans to pave roads in the region, facilitating further settlement and speculation. (IPS, Feb. 16)