Bolsonaro’s ‘land grab’ bill passes Brazil’s lower house

Cattle graze on a smoldering field that was hit by a fire burning a tract of the Amazon forest as it is cleared by farmers, in Rio Pardo, Rondonia, Brazil

Brazil’s lower house of Congress passed a land bill on Tuesday that is backed by the country’s powerful farm sector but that environmentalists say will contribute to deforestation in the Amazon rainforest.

The bill allows squatters on public land to more easily receive deeds to their properties and was initially proposed by far-right President Jair Bolsonaro in a move to please farmers, who overwhelmingly supported his 2018 election.

The lower house approved the basic text of the bill by 296 votes for and 136 against. It still needs to pass in the Senate.

Brazilians have been settling the Amazon rainforest for decades, but many lack official deeds, putting them in a legal gray area.

Proponents of the bill say granting deeds to settlers will encourage them to comply with laws to curb deforestation. But critics say it will reward past crimes of illegal land grabbers, who often deforest land to increase its value for agriculture.

Greenpeace said the bill, if it becomes law, will in practice be an amnesty for land invasions.

“The message lawmakers are sending Brazilians is that it pays to invade and deforest public lands,” said Greenpeace’s Mariana Mota.

“No one is happier today than the land grabbers, who have government and Congress on their side,” she said.

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