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Weekly Report - 14 May 2020 (WR-20-19)

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BRAZIL: Armed forces deployed to protect the Amazon

The Brazilian government has deployed troops to the Amazon, part of efforts to fight environmental crimes as deforestation is expected to surge with the start of the dry season (and increased wildfires). Although ostensibly a sign that the government led by President Jair Bolsonaro is taking deforestation seriously, the fact that it puts environmental-monitoring efforts under military command raises some concern.

In a press conference on 11 May, Vice-President Hamilton Mourão, who heads the federal government’s national council of the Amazon [WR-20-06], announced the launch of ‘Operação Verde 2’. The R$60m (US$10.1m) military operation, authorised by a presidential Garantia da Lei e da Ordem (GLO) decree, initially valid from 11 May to 10 June, deploys 3,800 troops to the Amazon region. They will assist the government’s environmental agencies such as Ibama and ICMBio in their work, fighting illegal activities which drive deforestation. 

“We don’t want Brazil to be seen as the environmental villain,” Mourão said. President Bolsonaro’s response to particularly destructive wildfires in the Amazon last August sparked criticism worldwide and delivered a blow to Brazil’s international reputation. After a spike in 2019, deforestation has continued to rise in 2020 [WR-20-15]. The latest figures from the government’s early-warning system (Deter), released on 8 May, point to year-on-year deforestation having increased 63.7% in April.

The GLO bringing in the military reinforcements is expected to be extended beyond its initial 30-day period, perhaps all the way to 2022. Mourão stressed that the armed forces will not be substituting Ibama, ICMBio, or Funai (the indigenous rights agency) but will be present in a “coordination and management” capacity.

The risk that these independent agencies become directly subordinate to the military, which ultimately answers to the president, is a concern, however, not least because of the Bolsonaro administration’s poor environmental record and tendency to be sympathetic with the very people who are behind illegal deforestation.

MP 910/19

In December 2019, President Bolsonaro passed a decree on land regularisation (MP910/19) which critics say encourages illegal land grabbing and increases the risk of violence against indigenous peoples. Vice President Mourão and Environment Minister Ricardo Salles defended this decree, which is about to expire if not ratified by congress, in the press conference on 11 May. But the next day the president of the chamber of deputies, Rodrigo Maia, announced that the MP910 would not be voted on as planned, and might instead be debated as a bill next week. The MP910 has prompted vocal criticism from environmentalists, public figures, and opposition lawmakers in Brazil, but is defended by the government and by the agribusiness caucus in congress.

Military reinforcements

Federal deputy Tabata Amaral, of the Partido Democrático Trabalhista (PDT), said on 11 May that she had presented a bill to congress to suspend the presidential Garantia da Lei e da Ordem (GLO) decree, arguing that although military reinforcements are not a problem per se, the decree risks jeopardising environmental operations and the autonomy of those who lead them.