A new investigation has revealed how large swathes of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest are being illegally sold on Facebook, with some listings advertising plots as large as 1,000 football fields.
The plots being sold include national forests and indigenous reserves, and most of the ads came from the northern state of Rondônia, which is Brazil’s most deforested state, according to a BBC investigation.
The BBC arranged meetings between four sellers from the state and an undercover reporter. One man was discovered trying to sell a plot inside the Uru Eu Wau Wau indigenous reserve, in Rondônia state, for about $23,000.
“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,” Bitaté Uru Eu Wau, a local Indigenous community leader, told the BBC.
The report details how easy it is to find the illegally invaded plots by typing Portuguese like "forest" or "native jungle" into Facebook Marketplace.
Many of the sellers claim that they do not even have a land title, the only document which proves land ownership under Brazilian law.
The modus operandi of most land grabbers is to deforest the land and then persuade politicians to remove its protected status, on the basis it no longer serves its original purpose. Then, land grabbers can officially buy the land from the government, which legalises their claims, according to the report.
Facebook stated that it was “ready to work with local authorities,” but wouldn’t be taking action on its own to combat the illegal trade. Indigenous leaders have been urging the social media giant to do more.
“The land invaders feel very empowered to the point that they are not ashamed of going on Facebook to make illegal land deals,” Ivaneide Bandeira, head of environmental NGO Kanindé, told the BBC.
InSight Crime Analysis
Emboldened by Bolsonaro’s lax environmental oversight and permissive rhetoric, illegal land grabbers in Brazil continue to encroach onto indigenous and protected reserves in the Amazon rainforest.
Since taking office, the Bolsonaro government has worked relentlessly to promote agriculture and development in the Amazon. The investigation reveals how land grabbing is being fuelled by Brazil’s cattle ranching industry - one of the biggest drivers of deforestation.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Environmental Crime
Bolsonaro has slashed Brazil’s environmental agency’s budget and staff (Instituto Brasileiro do Meio Ambiente e dos Recursos Naturais Renováveis — IBAMA), further emboldening land grabbers.
IBAMA handed out 20 percent fewer fines in 2020 – 9,516 fines compared with 11,914 in 2019 – Reuters reported, citing a Brazilian non-profit fact-checking initiative.
Illegal land grabbing is only the latest criminal economy to emerge on social media platforms in Brazil. As InSight Crime previously reported, wildlife traffickers have been increasingly relying on social media to make sales, taking advantage of the relative anonymity and global reach such platforms offer. Monkeys, toucans, parrots and raccoons were all available to buy through WhatsApp, according to a recent Sin Embargo report.