Brazil announced the creation of a secretariat of Amazon and Environmental Services amid the external criticism received by the deforestation and fires in its forests and wetlands that endanger the free trade agreement between the EU and Mercosur. The new secretariat is attached to the Ministry of the Environment that directs Ricardo Salles, who months ago had recommended to the president Jair Bolsonaro take advantage of the fact that the country was concentrating on the pandemic to advance policies favorable to agricultural business and at the cost of further destruction of the forest.
Hours before the launching of the Amazonian secretariat was known, the EU had demanded from Mercosur a “clear commitment“in defense of”sustainable development” to sign the commercial agreement designed a year ago. “We must take these issues seriously,” said the vice-president of the European Commission, Vladis Dombrovskis. And although the EU’s message was directed to the bloc made up of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay (Venezuela is suspended), even the far-right government understood that the warning was directed especially to Bolsonaro. The Minister of the Office of Institutional Security, the retired general Augusto Heleno, was in charge of formulating a response and said that “foreign nations, entities and personalities” lie about the lack of protection of the Amazon with the aim of “damaging Brazil and topple Jair Bolsonaro. “According to the military man, Brazil cannot” admit “or” encourage “the positions of countries” without a past that gives them moral authority to criticize us. “
Not only the EU statement has upset the ultra-right government. France has been even more eloquent than its partners and last Friday asked “solid guarantees” that they respond to Europe’s “environmental expectations” to continue negotiations with Mercosur. One of the demands is nothing less than Brazil’s respect for the Paris Agreement against climate change that Bolsonaro, following the path of Donald Trump, has threatened to abandon. Around the same time, an unprecedented coalition made up of more than 200 civil society organizations, agribusiness companies and the financial sector, asked the government for concrete measures to reduce deforestation. Other NGOs launched a campaign to boycott meat products imported from Brazil by the European Union.
A history of disasters
With this political background, the secretariat has been created in the city of Manaus, capital of the State of Amazonas (north). Its objective, it was officially reported, will be to coordinate prevention policies and control of illegal deforestation, forest fires, sustainable land use and reduction of the degradation of native vegetation in all biomes of the country. Although the deforestation data for July 2020 has shown a reduction in relation to the same month of the catastrophic last year, the accumulated data for the last 12 months reveals that logging has increased by 34%, according to data from the National Institute for Space Research (Inpe).
At the same time, the Brazilian south has been shaken by the degree of destruction caused by the fire in the Pantanal, a 250,000 square kilometer wetland that is considered one of the richest ecosystems in the world in biodiversity of flora and fauna. With the fires, the authorities of the Mato Grosso region assured, they have sought to expand the agricultural-livestock frontier.
The government’s response
General Heleno has assured that there is no “scientific evidence” that the increase in forest fires is the result of government inaction. “In fact, they have to do with natural phenomena, that human action is incapable of preventing, “he added during a hearing convened this Monday by the Supreme Court for the Executive to explain his criticized management of the Climate Fund. The mayor of the city of Rio de Janeiro, Rodrigo Maia, accused the Executive having allocated a budget for this fund this year equivalent to 67% of the previous year.
“Illegal minery, invasion of indigenous lands, destruction of forests, is the true economic program of Jair Bolsonaro, “said researcher Celso Rocha de Barros in a column published by the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper.