Bolivia: deforestation decree protested

In a ceremony at Los Tajibos hotel and convention center in Santa Cruz, Bolivia’s President Evo Morales on Jan. 11 promulgated Law 337 on Support of Food Production and Forest Restitution, part of his plan to boost food production under the Patriotic Agenda 2025 program, building towards the bicentennial of the country’s independence. The law establishes a “special regime” forgiving owners of predios (private collective land-holdings) who engaged in illegal deforestation between July 1996 and the end of 2011. The measure applies only to private lands cleared without permission of the National Institute of Agricultural and Forestry Innovation (INIAF), and not to lands illegally cleared in forest reserves or other protected areas. Normally, landowners who clear their lands without authorization face a fine and are obliged to reforest the areas, a penalty known as “reversal.” The decree chiefly concerns the eastern lowland region of the country in the Amazon Basin, known as Oriente.

The Agricultural Chamber of Oriente (CAO) hailed the new law. “We are very content because there are more than 5 million hectares which will be free of reversals and exaggerated fines,” said CAO’s president Julio Roda. A critical analysis on the left-opposition website Bolpress said the decree is another indication of Morales’ growing “alliance” with the “agro-industrial bourgeoisie.” (BolPress, NotiBoliviaRural, Jan. 12; Ecologia, Medio Ambiente Bolivia, ABIFM Bolivia, FM Bolivia, Jan. 11)

Last year, with much fanfare, Morales enacted a “Law of Mother Earth,” which toughened environmental protection measures but was protested by indigenous opposition groups as inadequate. A law that would similarly forgive past deforestation was last year introduced in Brazil.

The new law comes amid growing concern about the impacts of climate change in Bolivia. The 2011 Global Assessment Report of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) noted that Bolivia was hard-hit by both floods and drought last year. In the first quarter of 2011, heavy rains attributed to La Niña phenomenon claimed 54 lives and affected 24,292 families in 115 of the 337 municipalities across the country. At year’s end, when the rains were supposed to come back, they largely failed to; drought struck at least five of Bolivia’s nine departments, and a state of emergency was  declared in 22 municipalities—mostly in Santa Cruz and Tarija. Thousands of cattle died due to lack of water and food.

UNISDR applauds Bolivia for adopting the Hyogo Framework for Action, an international protocol on natural disaster preparedness, as part of its “Buen Vivir” social program. (UNISDR, Sept. 24 via PreventionWeb)