Thursday, October 2, 2014

Island Issues

South America: Illegal Mansions Sprout on Public Islands in Brazil

Brazil’s coastline is renowned for its gorgeous tropical islands, most of which are part of national parks. This has not stopped some wealthy elites from taking them over and building luxurious holiday homes, however.

(Illegal mansion on Cavala Island)

A controversy is brewing in Brazil over the revelation that some public islands – especially in beautiful resort areas like Angra dos Reis – have been commandeered by rich elites for their sole use as vacation retreats. An article on Bloomberg News recently revealed that there appears to be a virtual epidemic of this “holiday squatting” among wealthy Brazilians, often in protected natural areas. They base this conclusion off a report by the state of Rio de Janeiro’s environmental institute, the INEA, which was released in August of 2011.

A common tactic for the country’s elites to use is to request permission to build a small cottage in protected areas, after which they lay waste to the environment to make room for virtual palaces. Commonly, according to Bloomberg, once their deception has been found out, they then make a deal to undo the damage and restore the natural environment if they are permitted some continued use of the land. This pledge, of course, is then never followed through on.

This crime can be considered an “open secret” with little effort made to hide their homes by the builders. One such illegal mansion was actually seen around the world in the film “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn” after it was rented by Hollywood producers – it was built in secret by a food distribution magnate. Others have won international architectural awards. The article describes an epidemic of such illegally occupied islands taking place in the ecological haven of Paraty, a charming colonial town found south along the curve of the Ilha Grande Bay from the more famous Angra dos Reis.

One of the most famous cases of millionaire squatting is that of Antonio Claudio Resende, who founded the largest car-rental company in Latin America. According to the article, in 2006 he had a large portion of jungle on Cavala Island in Paraty cleared to build a vast mansion of more than 1,700 square-metres. After a speedboat raid by officials uncovered it and the surrounding ecological destruction, Resende has spent the last four years battling both criminal and civil charges levied by the INEA against him for the improper use of the land. Thus far, he has ignored orders for the demolition of his illegal mansion.

The problems generated by the building of these homes are manifest. The obvious is the devastation to pristine and rapidly vanishing environmental sanctuaries containing rare plants and vulnerable animal species like sloths, jaguars and tamarins. Local indigenous populations who make their livelihood in the jungle are also being prevented from using the beaches – which by law, are public property – in some cases, being threatened with guns by security thugs hired by the squatters.

Environmental investigators tasked with uncovering these crimes, like Graziela Barros and Jose Morelli, says that the illegal construction is a symptom of the attitude of Brazil’s wealthy – that the land is there for the exclusive enjoyment of the elite. Prosecutor Fernando Lavieri, who worked in Paraty for three years, echoed this sentiment. ““These actions are proof that they completely disregard the law, they take ownership of natural resources and believe their rights are greater than the rights of everybody else,” he said.

Read more about this story: Bloomberg News

 

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