There’s no more room to bury the dead, they can’t be cremated, and laws forbid a new cemetery. So the mayor of this Brazilian farm town has proposed a solution: Outlaw death.
Mayor Roberto Pereira da Silva’s proposal to the town council asks residents to “take good care of your health in order not to die” and warns that “infractors will be held responsible for their acts.”
The bill, which sets no penalty for passing away, is meant to protest a federal law that has barred a new or expanded cemetery in Biritiba Mirim, a town of 28,000 people 45 miles east of Sao Paulo.
“Of course the bill is laughable, unconstitutional and will never be approved,” said Gilson Soares de Campos, an aide to the mayor. “But can you think of a better marketing strategy ... to persuade the government to modify the environmental legislation that is barring us from building a new cemetery?”
A 2003 decree by Brazil’s National Environment Council bars new or expanded cemeteries in so-called permanent preservation areas or in areas with high water tables. Environmental protection measures rule out cremation.
Law leaves no option
That left no option for Biritiba Mirim, a town on the so-called “green belt” of rich farmland that supplies fruits and vegetables for Sao Paulo, Brazil’s biggest city. The town produces 90 percent of the watercress consumed in Brazil.
Most of Biritiba Mirim sits above the underground water source for about 2 million people in Sao Paulo, de Campos said. The rest is covered by protected forest.
More than 50,000 people already are buried in the 3,500 crypts and tombs in Biritiba Mirim’s municipal cemetery, which was inaugurated in 1910.
The cemetery ran out of space last month and 20 residents who have died since November were forced to share a crypt. But even that solution has limits.
“The crypts will be filled to capacity in six months. ... We have even buried people under the walkways,” de Campos said. “Look, people are going to die. A solution has to be found, or we’ll have to break the law.”
At least 20 towns within 60 miles of Biritiba Mirim have a similar dilemma, de Campos said, though none has ordered its citizens not to die.
Another town tried to ban condoms
Biritiba Marim isn’t the first Brazilian town to draw attention with an unusual law. A few years ago, a mayor in Parana state banned the sale of condoms, arguing that his town needed to increase its population to keep qualifying for federal aid. Drugstores ignored the ban.
De Campos said his town wants the Environment Council to change the wording of the cemetery decree to allow exceptions approved by environmentalists.
Biritiba Mirim has set aside public land — five times the size of the current graveyard — for a new cemetery that environmental experts from the University of Sao Paulo say, “will not affect the region’s water tables or surrounding environment,” de Campos said.
The Environment Council declined to comment before a meeting to discuss the matter with local officials Thursday.
Meanwhile, town officials say they are hoping no one else dies.