Brazil sends troops to curb Amazon loggers

·3-min read

President Jair Bolsonaro has signed a decree to dispatch Brazilian soldiers to the Amazon in a bid to curb surging deforestation, just two months after withdrawing troops from the region and days after his environment minister resigned.

The decree published in the country's official gazette on Monday said soldiers would go to the states of Para, Amazonas, Mato Grosso and Rondonia through the end of August.

It didn't provide details about the number of troops to be deployed nor the cost of the operation.

Vice-President Hamilton Mourao told reporters earlier this month that the deployment could be extended beyond two months with the arrival of the dry season, when people burn forest to clear land.

Amazon deforestation has been ticking upwards for several years, but surged since the 2018 election of Bolsonaro, who repeatedly called for development of the rainforest.

The destruction has elicited an international outcry and, more recently, an effort by US President Joe Biden's administration to urge Bolsonaro to get tough on illegal logging.

This will mark the third time that Bolsonaro has dispatched troops to the Amazon, following two "Operation Green Brazil" deployments, the most recent of which ended in April.

Each mission involved thousands of soldiers. Still, environmental experts have said the military was ill-prepared and had limited efficacy.

In 2020, deforestation in Brazil's Amazon reached a level unseen since 2008, according to official data.

And 98.9 per cent of deforestation had indications of illegality, either done near springs, in protected areas or carried out without requisite authorisation, according to data released this month by the MapBiomas Project, a network of nonprofits, universities and technology companies that studies Brazilian land use.

Brazil's environmental regulator levied fines in just five per cent of these cases, the group found.

Marcio Astrini, executive secretary of the Climate Observatory, a network of environmental nonprofit groups, called the latest military deployment a "smokescreen" that will allow the government to claim to be fighting deforestation.

He noted a previously successful initiative, largely funded by the Norwegian and German governments, has been suspended since 2019.

"The government has adopted a series of measures that simply destroys the state's monitoring capacity, like stopping environmental fines,? Astrini said.

He added that the regulator has also ceased destroying machinery used for illegal logging.

Bolsonaro's plan to send soldiers comes as the US administration has called for curbing Amazon deforestation in order to help arrest climate change.

Bolsonaro has said Brazil lacks enough funds to do so on its own, despite the fact the nation did so at the start of this century.

The US has made clear it would only be willing to contribute once Brazil registers concrete progress, of which there has so far been no sign.

On June 23, Environment Minister Ricardo Salles announced his resignation, giving up his post amid sharp criticism of his tenure and two investigations into his actions involving allegedly illegal timber operations. He has denied all wrongdoing.

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