Federal police in Brazil said yesterday they had broken up a ring of government officials whom they accuse of taking bribes from land speculators so they could grab Amazon rain-forest...
RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil Federal police in Brazil said yesterday they had broken up a ring of government officials whom they accuse of taking bribes from land speculators so they could grab Amazon rain-forest land for illegal logging and soybean farming.
Federal prosecutor Gustavo Nogami said authorities had captured or interviewed all 21 suspects sought in connection with writing illegal titles to lands near Santarém, Brazil, a deep-water Amazon port city where Minnesota-based Cargill opened a $20 million soybean-export terminal last year.
Eleven of the suspects who were arrested worked in the Para regional office of Incra, the much-maligned Brazilian agency that is charged with agriculture reform and distributing land and land titles to poor farmers.
“We will do everything possible to end this noncompliance with the law. We will clean this up,” Nogami said of the action, dubbed Operation Far West.
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On Tuesday, police arrested José Roberto Faro, Incra’s chief in the eastern Amazon state of Para, Brazil’s second largest. Police allege he helped illegally convey more than 1.2 million acres not to poor farmers but to powerful landowners who had bribed him along with others in his office.
News reports in August and September documented an invasion of armed land squatters who were seizing land for speculators. Stories also described the use of illegal slave labor to clear jungle tracts.
Nogami said land squatting was taking place to plant soybeans to sell to Cargill and other commodity traders. Cargill is among the investors that are paving a dirt road through the jungle to facilitate deliveries to Santarém.
“They [squatters] come because there is a Cargill terminal here. Being close lowers the costs. People come to Para, they take these public lands, devour the forest and plant soy,” Nogami said. “It is not the direct responsibility of Cargill.”
Jackson Pinto, an activist in the city of Belém, Brazil, with the Pastoral Land Commission, a social activist arm of the Roman Catholic Church, said Operation Far West aimed at just a tiny part of the Amazon’s huge problem of illegally grabbed land.
“Para is the second-biggest state for illegal land taking, with 74 million acres, after the state of Amazonas, with almost 131 million acres,” he said.