Timeline A GOVERNMENT AGAINST THE ENVIRONMENT
Last year, Jair Bolsonaro and his administration dedicated themselves to a project explicit and more than ever evident: dismantling the environmental control and inspection framework, attacking all environmental policies, excluding science and knowledge from governmental decisions and handing over natural resources to those who deforest and other environmental criminals. The year of 2019 was tragic for every biome in Brazil—nothing but annihilation, from the beaches to the deep forests—and filled with impudence and violence against traditional peoples. Deforestation and burning down the Amazon, that jeopardize global efforts against climate change, and the genocide of indigenous peoples have outraged the entire world and threatened the Brazilian economy with sanctions.
But nothing is so disastrous that it can’t get worse.
In 2020, the situation further deteriorated. In the year in which the Minister of the Environment was caught on video saying that he would take advantage of the pandemic to “regulate” and “sneak in the bull crap”, Brazil is on track to break new records in deforestation. The indigenous peoples of the forest are asking the international community for help.
The socio-environmental agenda in Brazil is in its worst moment.
Brazil’s Minister of the Economy, Paulo Guedes, makes embarrassing comments at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, defending a backward, toxic, and exclusory agriculture model. His participation culminated in him blaming the poor for the devastation in the Amazon.
Bolsonaro sends legislation, PL 191/2020, to Congress, which opens Indigenous lands for mineral and energy projects. According to the bill, Indigneous Peoples would only be “heard”, but would not have the right to veto these activities in their own territories. It is an attempted assault on a right gauranteed in the Brazilian Constituition.
Amid international criticism for Environmental Minister Ricardo Salles’ disastrous management, General Hamilton Mourão, Vice President of Brazil, sidelined Salles and resurrected the Amazon Council, of which Mourão becomes coordinator. Mourão didn’t even hide the purpose of this intervention: “taking control of the narrative”. The council has been a joke, it has no plan, no goal.
On Carnival Tuesday (Fat Tuesday), the President of the IBAMA, The Brazilian Environmental Enforcement Agency, Eduardo Bim, decided to release exports of unauthorized timber. Staff who protested the absurd move were fired. The rule change gave a greenlight to an army of illegal loggers to invade Indigenous and protected lands. Asside from carrying a chainsaw, many times these loggers also carried the coronavirus.
Ricardo Salles had previously informally banned officials from Brazil’s Ministry of the Environment from speaking to the press in 2019. It worked. Eight out of 10 requests from journalists are not even answered by the Ministry of the Environment’s Department of Communications. Salles, however, didn’t think that was enough. The president of IBAMA, the Brazilian Environmental Enforcement Agency, issued a gag order decree that banned civil servants from communicating with the press.
the attackto the atlantic forest
More amnesty for criminals. This time the gift was from Salles to those who deforested Permanent Preservation Areas (APPs), relieving them of the requirement to restore the vegetation. This agressive move targeted, the Atlantic Forest, one of the most diverse biome in the world and Brazil’s most devastated. It will also likely lead to an increase in land conflicts and even re-ignite already settled disputes
IBAMA’s Director of Environmental Protection, Military Police Major Olivaldi Borges Azevedo, was fired. Ministry officials quietly commented that the reason was that he was unable to “hold onto” the agency’s inspection teams, who carried out an operation against illegal mining on Indigenous lands. In the following week, the heads rolled of Renê Oliveira and Hugo Loss—IBAMA’s coordinators of the operation.
FUNAI Brazil’s Agency for Indigenous Affairs, opens the possibility for outsides to occupy and sell properties inside Indigenous Lands that are pending demarcation. This sham would allow 237 Indigenous Lands to be stolen and subdivided—an area equivalent to the Brazilian State of Pernambuco (or larger than the nation of Hungary).
In the climate of tension created by the government, an IBAMA agent was attacked with a bottle to the face by illegal loggers in the southwestern region of the Brazilian state of Pará. Those who make a living illegally feel vindicated by the government's anti-environmental messages to attack officials who are doing their duty.
At the same time that it attacks environmental agencies, such as IBAMA, the government issues a decree, The Guarantee of Law and Order (GLO) and sends the Armed Forces to support anti-deforestation actions in the Amazon. Despite being sold as a pro-environment action, the operation marginalizes dedicated environmental enforcement bodies like IBAMA even more, which, despite its capacity and experience, has to follow military orders. The government gives this one-off short term operation a budget the size of what IBAMA requires for the whole year.
A government decree comes into effect that undermines the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation (ICMBio), the body responsible for managing conservation areas, such as national parks. Positions are eliminated, teams are disbanded, parks far away from each other are managed by the same team, and the chief positions are almost all handed over to the military, most of them from the Military Police.
land grabbingis a hit
The Amazon is doing badly but the land grabbers have a reason to be happy. Society prevents the congressional vote on the Land Grabber Presidential Decree, but the Decrees becomes the Land Grabber Law—PL da Grilagem—and members of the Brazilian Congress with spurious interests are preparing to vote on it as “an urgent issue” despite the pandemic in which the Brazilian Congress has to work remotely.
The Guarantee of Law and Order (GLO) Decree that sent the Armed Forces to the Amazon, supposedly to combat deforestation, consumed way more money than environmental agencies can dream of and obtained the following results:
It was a lie. An expensive joke.
Ricardo Salles is caught on a video of an inter-ministerial meeting, held on April 22, confessing his real intentions. He admits that he is taking advantage of the media being distracted with COVID-19 to “get away with” dismantling environmental protections and he asks for help from other ministers so that “regulation” reforms look legal.
General Mourão presents a “plan” to combat deforestation, compared by many in Brazil to a high school assignment that would have received a failing grade. In trying to make it seem like he cares, to reduce international pressure, Mourão makes it very clear that he doesn’t care.
Atlantic foreststill threatened
To bypass the Brazilian Federal Public Prosecutor (MPF), Salles withdraws the decree that allowed for the invasions in the Atlantic Forest. But he didn’t give up on the plan, he just changes legal tactics. He petitions the Supreme Court to declare his decree legal in order to neutralize the Public Prosecutor.
On World Environment Day, the government was sued by Brazilian NGOs and opposition parties, in order to 1. stop the government from making it easier to export illegal timber; 2. force the government to resume particpation in the Amazon Fund and Climate Fund; and 3. comply with other environmental obligations.
it hurts youin the pocket
The Dutch parliament joins those of Ireland and Belgium in rejecting the European Union—Mercosur agreement, due to the lack of guarantees for the protection of the Amazon. The United States Congressional House and Ways Committee announces opposition to any trade agreement between the two countries, because of the alarming deforestation rates. Bolsonaro’s mismanagement is hurting the Brazilian economy.
Mourão lies,satellites do not.
Days after Vice-President General Mourão declared that deforestation in the Amazon in May had fallen to “the minimum compared to previous years”, the satellite images proved exactly the opposite: forest devastation rose 12% in relation to May 2019, which had been terrible enough. It is the worst May in the historical series, even with the Army in the field.
crime against theeconomy
Thirty global funds that manage nearly 4 trillion USD push for reduction of deforestation in the Amazon. Brazil has made great strides towards becoming a worldwide outcast. The Bolsonaro administration’s anti-environmental policy is leaving deep scars on the forest, its peoples, and the country’s economy.
and it’sclosing in
Federal Public Prosecutor urges Brazilian courts to order the adoption of “urgent and in-depth measures” to evaluate the management of the environment and policies relating to the protection of Indigenous Peoples, ”given the imminence of huge losses for the nation's economy”.
The year is halfway through, and it is becoming clear that it will be one of the most terrible years in history for environmental conservation. Deforestation is so out of control that projections indicated that we will return to 2003 levels, before Brazil had taken a series of measures that reduced the deforestation rates by 85%. It is clear that we will lose everything we had won.