Parts of The Amazon Rainforest Are Being Sold Illegally Via Facebook Ads, BBC Investigation Finds

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According to an investigation conducted by the BBC, driven by Brazil’s cattle ranching industry, the Amazon rainforest plots are being sold via Facebook marketplace ads with some of these parts as large as 1,000 football pitches.

The investigation highlights the illegal sale of parts of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest on the social media platform Facebook and these protected areas include national forests and land reserved for indigenous communities and is also home to around one million indigenous people.

To find these illegally invaded plots, one can just set any of the Amazonian states as the location and type the Portuguese equivalents for search terms like ‘forest’, ‘native jungle’, and ‘timber’ into the Californian tech firms’ marketplace’s search tool. Some of these ads show satellite images and GPS co-ordinates with many sellers not afraid to mention that they do not have a land title, the only document under Brazilian law that helps to prove ownership of land.

Fabricio Guimarães, an individual with a middle-class job in a city and one of the sellers on this marketplace tripled his initial asking price to US$35,000 as the land was illegally cleared and made ready for farming, revealing that there is no risk of inspection making it easier to sell these plots.

Most of these ads came from Rondônia, the most deforested state in Brazil’s rainforest area where another individual, Alvim Souza Alves was attempting to sell parts of the Uru Eu Wau Wau indigenous reserve in the area, for about GBP£16,400 (approx. US$22,741) and when questioned about the same, Alves bluntly said that there were no Indians present and they are around 50km (31 miles) away from his land.

Usually, the land is deforested and then people urge politicians to scrap the plot’s protected status saying that it is useless to serve its original purpose and this helps land grabbers to officially buy these areas from the government.

The plot sold in the reserve is used by the indigenous people to hunt, fish, and collect fruits. Community leader Bitaté Uru Eu Wau Wau said that the ads was a lack of respect. “I don’t know these people. I think their objective is to deforest the indigenous land, to deforest what is standing. To deforest our lives, you could say.”

To tackle this, he called on Facebook to act and do more to stop this from happening.

I don’t know these people. I think their objective is to deforest the indigenous land, to deforest what is standing. To deforest our lives, you could say

Bitaté Uru Eu Wau Wau, Community leader of the Uru Eu Wau Wau indigenous reserve

In response, Facebook said it is willing to work with authorities but refuses to take inspection action to stop the illegal trade as it claims that it can get complex to figure the illegal ads and needs the local judiciary to intervene.

Aside from this, activists have come forward and claimed that the government isn’t willing to put an end to these sales. Head of environmental NGO Kanindé, Ivaneide Bandeira said: “The land invaders feel very empowered to the point that they are not ashamed of going on Facebook to make illegal land deals.”

Brazil’s Minister of the Environment, Ricardo Salles said that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s government has always made it clear that his is a zero-tolerance government for any crime, including environmental ones. “This year the government has created operation Verde Brasil 2, which seeks to control illegal deforestation, illegal fires, and to join efforts between the federal government and the states.”

Shockingly, certain links were found between the leader of the Curupira Association, an illegal land-grabbing operation that invades indigenous territory, and congressman Colonel Chrisóstomo, a member of the Social Liberal Party.

However, Colonel Chrisóstomo said that though he helped in organizing the meetings, he wasn’t aware of the group’s links to land invasion.

In 2019, images from Brazil showing more than 80,000 fires ravaging through the Amazon rainforest emerged, and in 2020, too, Brazil was consumed in flames without garnering enough international attention with rights groups calling on the international community to speak up against far-right President Bolsonaro, who they claim is pursuing economic interests at the expense of ecological and indigenous protections.

According to satellite data, wildfires this year – which are often purposely set by farmers to clear land for the unsustainable cycle of cattle grazing and soy feed production, have already burned through an estimated 7,861 miles, which represents 10% of the wetland region.

Bolsonaro faced international condemnation in 2019 and this time around too has been lax in taking action against those driving illegal deforestation activities by refuting claims of wildfires as a “lie” and describing them instead as “campfires”.


Lead image courtesy of AFP via Getty Images.

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