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In Brazil, a showdown over rainforest deforestation

Brazil's president is scheduled to sign a reform package today that could retroactively legalize the deforestation of millions of acres in the Amazon.

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Environmentalists protest against the adoption of the country's new Forest Code, during the plenary vote of the Chamber of Deputies in Brasilia April 25. The placards on the left and right read: 'Forest Code, Veto Dilma,' urging Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff to veto the country's new forestry code, which proposes to relax regulations in the Amazon rainforest and opening up parts of the rainforest to farming.

Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters

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A throng of students, young professionals, and activists gathered on the lawn as dusk took over the towering parliament and Planalto, Brazil’s executive branch. They took their tambourines and whistles, promising to camp out until midnight and serenaded the president: “Oh Dilma! You can veto it! Brazil will support you!” 

Theirs was the latest in a series of nationwide protests in recent months over a proposed reform of the 1965 “Forest Code” that will, as currently written, effectively legalize the deforestation of tens of millions of Amazon jungle after the fact and reduce requirements on landowners to reforest protected areas.

Later today, President Dilma Roussef is expected to sign part of the "amnesty" bill into law, though she's signaled that some amendments will be made in response to environmental concerns. But whether they go far enough to mollify an angry movement of citizens and environmental activists remains to be seen.

Agricultural industry representatives say their business is economically vital and that Brazil still has massive tracts of preserved land. Brazil hosts about 40 percent of the world’s rainforests, and its Amazon region alone is larger than India

But the movement to preserve the environmentally-friendly, though oft-flouted, 1965 code has galvanized citizens in a way observers say no sustainability cause has before – and Brazil’s hosting of the Rio+20 United Nations sustainability conference in June has only sharpened their criticisms.

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