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a0932 BC-LT-Brazil-AmazonLand 06-26 0454

Brazil approves controversial land tenure law

By MARCO SIBAJA

Associated Press Writer

BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) — President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has approved a law that could legalize landholdings by some 1 million squatters occupying a Texas-sized chunk of the Amazon rain forest, despite environmentalist fears it will accelerate deforestation.

The law, approved late Thursday night, affects 260,233 square miles (67.4 million hectares) of federally owned land that for decades has been illegally occupied — mostly by small farmers, but also by large property holders and loggers.

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The government says the law will help it curb deforestation and land conflicts, but environmentalists say it will lure more people into the region and lead to more devastation.

The government hopes that legalizing Amazon landholdings will let it better monitor land ownership, which it says is key to the region’s sustainable development and survival.

Under the new law, squatters occupying up to 250 acres (100 hectares) will be given title to the land free of cost. The government says that more than 50 percent of the area is made up of small farms of this size.

Lots measuring between 250 and 1,000 acres (100 and 400 hectares) will be sold at a "symbolic cost" and holdings of 1,000 to 3,750 acres (400 to 1,500 hectares) will be sold at market prices.

Larger lots of up to 6,250 acres (2,500 hectares) will be auctioned to the highest bidder. Anything larger can only be sold with congressional approval.

Bowing to pressure from environmental protection groups, Silva vetoed a clause that would have allowed absentee landlords and companies to benefit from the law.

However the president kept a clause that allows the government to give deeds to lands of less than 1,000 acres (400 hectares) without first verifying that the person asking for the title actually occupies and works the land.

Nilo Davila, Greenpeace representative in Brasilia said that without a prior inspection, more poverty-stricken squatters from around the country will be lured into the Amazon.

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"This will lead to more deforestation and violence," he added.

Silva also irked environmentalists by not vetoing a clause that reduced from 10 to three the number of years that must elapse before a large property in the region could be sold.

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