AMAZON LANDGRABBERS RUIN ECOTOURISM PARADISE IN BRAZIL
Brazil’s Alter do Chao, a sleepy village that blends rainforest and beaches, bet on tourism and scored big. Visitors flocked here to eat Amazonian river fish while gazing out over the water, and to take day trips offering the chance to meet Indigenous people and see pink dolphins, Mauricio Savarese wrote for the Associated Press (AP).
But this once pristine place is discovering that the perils of becoming a can’t-miss destination extend beyond hordes of weekend warriors sapping its unspoiled charm. Problems rife throughout the Amazon region — land grabbing, illegal deforestation and unsanctioned construction — are plaguing this ecotourism hot spot. By 2018, land grabbing had grown so pervasive that one of Brazil’s environmental protection agencies said Alter do Chao needed “urgent interventions against the rise of invaders” so it could preserve 67% of its protected areas.
One month later, President Jair Bolsonaro, who has pledged to promote development of the Amazon, was inaugurated. Alter do Chao’s struggle with land grabbers has only worsened since, residents and activists say, with lawbreakers more brazen about occupying land, then slashing and burning forest to make way for houses and fields. Meanwhile, dozens of projects in this riverside village known as the “Amazon Caribbean” have advanced despite being built within protected areas or lacking proper permits.
Most newcomers say they want to buy land legally and cheaply, said Ederson Santos, a motorboat driver. Failing that, however, many are happy to fence off any unoccupied area and claim it as their own. Santos brought AP to a recent development near the so-called Enchanted Forest, where a massive pier now links to an expansive home beside a stream. Land grabbers like this have seized many of the 17 nearby waterways, he said. Land grabbing consists of invading public areas and getting documents, forged or not, to certify their possession. Brazil doesn’t have a registry consolidating all municipal, state and federal records for landowners, making it easier for criminals. Historically, Brazil has done little to stop land grabbing in the vast Amazon. But Alter do Chao should be easier to monitor; it has a total protected area of only 66 square miles (170 square kilometers) and has several non-profit organizations dedicated to its defense.
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