BBC investigation: The Amazon rainforest is being illegally sold on Facebook
Our World: Selling the Amazon will be aired on BBC World News at 2330 GMT on Friday 26 February
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Using search terms like ‘forest’ and ‘timber’, a BBC News Brasil investigation team found hundreds of adverts for plots of the Amazon rainforest on Facebook
Plots inside national forests, indigenous territories and protected state reserves are being advertised by land grabbers on the social media site
The BBC went undercover to meet the sellers behind the ads
Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon is at a 10-year high driven by the country’s illegal land market
A BBC investigation found plots of primary rainforest as large as 1,000 football pitches on offer on the social media site.
In Our World: Selling The Amazon, a BBC News Brasil undercover investigation team exposes the illegal online marketplace fuelling the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest.
Some plots were in protected areas like national forests and indigenous reserves, with satellite images and GPS coordinates clearly displayed on the Facebook adverts.
In many of the online posts sellers openly admit they don’t have a land title, the only document which proves ownership of land under Brazilian law.
Ivaneide Bandeira, head of environmental NGO Kanindé, says a culture of impunity has empowered land invaders: “They are empowered to the point that they are not ashamed of going on Facebook to make illegal land deals.”
The BBC arranged meetings between four sellers from the state and an undercover operative posing as a lawyer claiming to represent wealthy investors from São Paulo.
One man was trying to sell a plot inside the Uru Eu Wau Wau indigenous reserve in Rondonia state for around $23,000 (£16,400).
For him, as for so many of the sellers the BBC found on Facebook, the Amazon rainforest has become an investment opportunity.
As well as a community of about 209 Uru Eu Wau Wau indigenous people, the Brazilian government says the reserve is also home to at least five other groups that have no contact with the outside world.
The BBC showed the Facebook ad to Bitaté Uru Eu Wau Wau, a leader of the Uru Eu Wau Wau community.
“This is a lack of respect,” he said. “I think the authorities should act in regards to it as soon as possible. Especially [as it is being advertised] on the most accessed social media platform, not only here in Brazil, but in the whole world.”
He urged Facebook to take action. Bitaté says: “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.”
In the meeting with the BBC's undercover operative, one Facebook seller revealed he was part of a group of other land grabbers, lobbying politicians to help them legalise their stolen land.
He feels the government of President Jair Bolsonaro is on their side. “I'll tell you the truth: if this is not solved with Bolsonaro there, it won't be solved anymore,” he said.
A common strategy among invaders of protected areas is to deforest the territory as much as possible and then plead with politicians to abolish the land’s protected status, arguing that the area has already been transformed and no longer serves its original purpose.
Once an area loses its protection, land grabbers can officially buy the plots from the government, thereby legalising their claims to the land.
The BBC approached Brazil's Minister of the Environment Ricardo Salles, who said: “President Jair Bolsonaro's government has always made it clear that his is a zero tolerance government for any crime, including environmental ones.”
Between August 2019 and July 2020, the Amazon lost 11,088 sq km of forest, the highest rate since 2008.
But Facebook allowing sellers access to buyers around the world only threatens to turbo-charge that destruction.
In response to the BBC’s investigation, a Facebook spokesperson said: “Our commerce policies require buyers and sellers to comply with laws and regulations when buying and selling on Marketplace.”
The social media giant says it stands ready to work with local authorities to address the investigation’s findings.
Our World: Selling the Amazon will be aired on BBC World News at 2330 GMT on Friday 26 February, on the BBC News Channel this Saturday and Sunday at 2130 - and on BBC iPlayer after that. The documentary in Portuguese will be available at the BBC News Brasil website bbc.com/brasil and YouTube channel from 1500 GMT on Friday 26 February.
Source BBC One
February 26, 2021 11:04am ET by BBC One