RIO DE JANEIRO – Some 86 percent of the environmental crimes committed in the Brazilian Amazon region go unpunished, the O Globo newspaper reported Sunday, citing a study by the non-governmental organization Imazon.
With only a 14 percent chance of punishment, the people who are destroying protected areas in the world’s largest tropical jungle know that even if they are convicted, in most cases judges will allow them to pay for their crime by donating food and other similar actions, the study found.
Of the people convicted for destroying protected areas in the so-called “world’s lung,” about a third managed to get their sentences replaced with an alternative “punishment.”
After analyzing 51 cases opened by the Brazilian courts for environmental crimes in the Amazon region between 1997 and 2006, Imazon concluded that 16 percent had lapsed, 4 percent had been thrown out of court for lack of evidence and 66 percent were under way but at a very slow pace.
Some 50 percent of the cases took more than 318 days before being investigated and the police investigations lasted an average of 1,047 days before charges were presented in court.
Before lapsing or ending in a conviction, the average environmental crime case lasts about 5˝ years.
“Despite the fact that there is an effort by the police, the government and the courts to speed up those cases, much time will still be needed for the adopted measures to become effective. The only way out for the moment is to guarantee constant vigilance over the environmental preserves,” researcher Paulo Barreto, one of the authors of the study, said.
Some 42 percent of the Amazon is legally protected against deforestation because the lands are part of a nature preserve, an Indian reservation or a conservation area, Imazon said.
Despite that, about 22,500 square kilometers (8,650 sq. miles) of protected areas in the Amazon were devastated between 2000 and 2008 by illegal logging and the expansion of agriculture and/or livestock raising in former jungle areas.