Amazon’s Largest Deforestation Plot Uncovered: 6,500+ Hectares Cleared by Heller Family

May 16, 2024
2 mins read
Artist impression of deforestation in Amazon for cattle
Artist impression of deforestation in Amazon for cattle

A family of serial deforesters is allegedly responsible for clearing some of the biggest areas of forest in the Brazilian Amazon for cattle farming. The Heller family is a defendant in more than 26 cases related to environmental crimes in the cities of Novo Progresso and Altamira, in Pará, and Itaúba, in Mato Grosso, Brazil. Only two cases were settled so far and first fines date back to 1999.

Heller is under investigation by the Federal Police for allegedly grabbing 21,000 hectares of federal land and illegally deforesting more than 6,500 hectares of forest in Novo Progresso  and Altamira. It might be the biggest Amazon deforestation crime ever investigated. According to the police, this point on the map, which is equivalent to four islands of Fernando de Noronha, is owned by Bruno Heller, 71, a farmer awaiting trial in Federal Court, suspected of leading a group that would gain patrimonial advantage from the invasion of federal land, with subsequent deforestation of the area.

Since 2007, the National Institute for Colonization and Agrarian Reform (Incra) has been notifying the rancher in an attempt to reclaim the lands allegedly grabbed by him. According to the police, Bruno used the names of his family members as fronts to grab federal lands, agrarian reform settlements, and indigenous lands. Among the relatives acting as Heller’s fronts, is his daughter and supplier to Frialto, Tatiana Heller. 

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The rancher, Bruno was caught red-handed in the first phase of the operation, on August 3, 2023, for carrying raw gold and an illegal weapon. He was released the next day and is responding to the charges in freedom. There is no scheduled trial date yet. The Federal Police  had identified him as the “biggest devastator of the Amazon.” 

As per an analysis by InfoAmazonia, Bruno’s family, the Hellers, have already been fined multiple times. In total, there are more than $6 million in fines since 1999, adjusted by the Extended National Consumer Price Index (IPCA). The vast majority of the fines refer to damage to flora, classified as illegal deforestation. Bruno alone received about half of the fines. The report found crimes committed by the rancher and his brothers Ingo Heller, Levino Heller, Udo Heller, and Nestor Heller. There are also fines against nephews Eliane Heller and Marcio Ivan Heller, while Bruno’s daughter, Tatiana, received three fines.

There are a total of six embargoes recorded in the names of Bruno and his brothers Nestor Heller and Ingo Heller, as well as nephew Márcio Ivan Heller. The analysis was based on the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources’s embargo data.

Together, the five members of the Heller family total 10 embargoes, from 2003 to 2021. According to the police investigation, the suspicion is that all properties located in Altamira and Novo Progresso belong to Bruno, although they are registered in the names of family members, who would be his fronts. 

In August 2019, Novo Progresso, where the Heller family’s activities are concentrated, was the epicenter of the event known as the “Day of Fire.” On that day, ranchers coordinated via WhatsApp to simultaneously burn pasture and forest areas during Jair Bolsonaro’s first year in office.

Govind Tekale

Embarking on a new journey post-retirement, Govind, once a dedicated teacher, has transformed his enduring passion for current affairs and general knowledge into a conduit for expression through writing. His historical love affair with reading, which borders on addiction, has evolved into a medium to articulate his thoughts and disseminate vital information. Govind pens down his insights on a myriad of crucial topics, including the environment, wildlife, energy, sustainability, and health, weaving through every aspect that is quintessential for both our existence and that of our planet. His writings not only mirror his profound understanding and curiosity but also serve as a valuable resource, offering a deep dive into issues that are critical to our collective future and well-being.

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