'It poses economic, ecological and welfare losses,' says expert about privatizing beaches in Brazil

Defended by Senator Flávio Bolsonaro, the measure was targeted by protesters in the Senate during a debate on the issue

Translated by: Ana Paula Rocha

Brasil de Fato | Brasília (Federal District) |
On Monday (27), the measure known in Portuguese as PEC 3/2022 was targeted by protesters in the Senate during a debate on the issue - Waldemir Barreto/Agência Senado

Targeted by environmentalists and campaigners on social media platforms, the proposed constitutional amendment (PEC, in Portuguese) that modifies the ownership of lands owned by the Brazilian Navy and opens the way for broader privatization of the Brazilian coast was criticized by experts on Monday (27) in the Senate.

During debates in the Senate’s Constitution and Justice Committee (CCJ, in Portuguese), biologist and PhD in Marine Sciences Marinez Eymael Garcia Scherer, current general coordinator of the Department of Ocean and Coastal Management of the Ministry of the Environment, said that the eventual approval of the measure would increase the ecological risks imposed on the Brazilian coastline, especially in terms of erosion due to predatory human action.

She mentioned cases such as the states of Ceará and Santa Catarina, which are already considered alarming due to having strips in an advanced state of erosion in the coastal zone, costing the latter losses of over BRL1 billion in 2022 (about US$ 193,6). The data was consolidated by the Integrated Disaster Information System (S2iD, in Portuguese), a platform of the National Civil Protection and Defense System, and includes material, environmental and economic costs, among others.

“Ecosystems have functions that provide us with ecosystem services, which, in turn, provide us with benefits that give us ecological, cultural and economic values and human well-being. If we lose these structures, we lose human well-being, the economy, and value, which is important for everyone. Also, it generates costs that end up affecting the entire Brazilian population. We don't even need to talk about how much is being made available [in resources] for Rio Grande do Sul [which is facing destruction due to floods], often because of areas that have been occupied and shouldn't be occupied for being permanent preservation areas,” he said.

In arguing for Brazil to be more careful with coastal preservation, the expert cited the cases of countries such as Mexico, Spain, Sweden, Portugal, Uruguay, Peru, Chile and Argentina, which impose strict limits on coastal protection. According to Scherer, in some cases, the protection zones reach 250 meters inland for the conservation of the coastal strip. In Brazil, the so-called “Marine Lands” are federal areas on the coast limited to 33 meters inland from the continent. The measurement refers to an average tide recorded in 1831. Marinez Scherer said that putting an end to the “institution of Marine Lands” would reduce the safety zone for the preservation of the Brazilian coast, posing various risks to the country.

“It would mean losing ecosystems, quality of life and human well-being in coastal cities, [giving] a bonus for very few and a very high burden on Brazilian society. It would also mean removing from the state the possibility of future planning, ordering the public good and delimiting the occupation of vulnerable areas. It's an own goal, a shot in the foot, a step backwards because we'll be going against what the rest of the world has been doing to protect these areas,” she added.

The text of the proposed amendment

Authored by former federal deputy Arnaldo Jordy (PPS, currently known as Cidadania Party), the proposal is currently in the National Congress as PEC 3/2022, having already been approved by the Chamber of Deputies.

The text stipulates that areas related to the federal service, federal environmental units and unoccupied areas should remain under the control of the state. At the same time, it establishes that “areas affected by state and municipal public services, including those intended for use by public service concessionaires and permit holders” should pass into the domain of states and municipalities. It also provides for “full domain” for “landowners [individuals who have the right to use a property] and occupants regularly registered with the state’s patrimony management body until the date of publication of the future constitutional amendment resulting from the PEC."

The text of the proposed amendment also says that marina areas may pass into the domain of “non-registered occupants, provided that the occupation took place at least five years before the date of publication of the constitutional amendment and that good faith is formally proven”.

Critics of the PEC point out that the measure creates a legal environment favorable to the further occupation of the coast in a way that harms the environment and the rights of the population to benefit established economic power.

In the Senate, the PEC's rapporteur is Flávio Bolsonaro (Liberal Party), the eldest son of former president Jair Bolsonaro. The parliamentarian has already presented an opinion in favor of approving the measure. “In their historical origins, the importance of Navy areas was linked to the idea of defending the territory, mainly to secure the Brazilian coast against foreign invasions. However, nowadays, these reasons are no longer present, especially given the technological advances in weapons that have changed the concepts of territorial defense,” he defends in the text, while also stating that the PEC ‘brings adequate and balanced rules for areas administered by the Brazilian Navy.’

Rebutting the senator's defense, deputy Túlio Gadelha (Rede Party) said that the proposal compromises mangroves and other areas of the coast, as well as increasing the ecological vulnerability of these places in the face of political agreements to be managed by municipalities and representatives of economic power. “We all know that only the state can protect it. It's the state that can control and supervise through institutions like Ibama, ICMBio and the Navy itself. When we take away the state’s competence to monitor these spaces and assign it to the municipality or the private sector, we are leaving [this responsibility] with the weakest side [of the federal system] or with people we don't know if intend to protect ecosystems.”

Ana Ilda Nogueira Pavão, a representative of the Artisanal Fishermen's Movement (MPP, in Portuguese), also expressed concern about the measure during the debate in the Senate. She said these workers see the amendment as a way to favor "disorderly deforestation caused by large enterprises”. “This PEC is taking us backwards and it doesn't represent us. This development [they are seeking] has nothing to do with us. We know the content of this PEC is basically aimed at the urbanization of the seafront by large enterprises, and it's not us who will profit from this. We will only lose out.”

The fisherwoman also mentioned her concern about the expulsion of vulnerable workers from the coast due to the predatory actions of big businesses. “Fishermen have been driven out of their territories by the invasive and often irregular presence of large enterprises. This PEC will affect us deeply. This must be said. And if it's something that's going to affect us, we should be asked about it,” he said.

Edited by: Thalita Pires