Criminal law left in limbo as illegal clearances continue in Argentina

Tuesday, October 17th, 2017

A proposed law that would introduce criminal penalties for illegal deforestation in Argentina is being deliberately held up by government officials, Greenpeace has claimed.

Meanwhile, Greenpeace’s latest monitoring report shows that a further 19,615 hectares of illegal clearance occurred between January and June 2017 across four provinces in the north of the country.

Image: Greenpeace activists dress as jaguars to protest soy-driven deforestation in northern Argentina. Courtesy of Greenpeace Argentina.

In 2016, Greenpeace and a coalition of campesino and indigenous organisations called for a ‘Forest Offenses Act’ to halt Argentina’s epidemic of illegal deforestation. The new law would establish a prison term of two to ten years for those who deforest without authorisation, as well as custodial sentences for public officials who collaborate in the crime.

However, for the proposal to become law it must be discussed and voted on by the country’s Criminal Legislation Committee, headed by congresswoman María Gabriela Burgos.

“It is unacceptable that almost a year has passed and the Criminal Law Commission has not addressed it,” said Hernán Giardini, coordinator of the Greenpeace Argentina Forestry Campaign. “While their vote is delayed, illegal clearances and evictions of peasant and indigenous communities are continuing.”

Greenpeace has long argued that the penalties in place under Argentina’s 2007 Forestry Law are inadequate. Government statistics show that 2.4 million hectares of forest have been cleared since the law took effect. A third of the clearances took place in protected areas where deforestation is illegal.

“Large agribusinesses violate the Forestry Law without proper punishment: they are simply charged a small fine which is insignificant compared to the money they can earn by destroying the forest,” said Giardini. “In many cases, the complicity of the officials in the violation of the norm is clear. Congress should urgently pass the Forest Offenses Act to end this impunity.”