Environment Minister is really “running the cattle herd” through Amazon

and . May 28, 2020
Environment Minister is really "running the cattle herd" through Amazon Environment Minister Ricardo Salles, speaking before Congress in October 2019. Photo: Marcelo Camargo/ABr

Since taking charge in January 2019, Brazil’s Environment Minister Ricardo Salles has been repeatedly accused of loosening environmental protections in the Amazon to clear a path for land-grabbers and other private interests. Despite vehemently denying these claims in public and in an interview with The Brazilian Report, footage of an April 22 cabinet meeting showed Mr. Salles make a brazen defense of this exploratory stance toward Brazil’s Amazon.

Unaware that the contents of the meeting would eventually be made public, the Environment Minister spoke of taking advantage of the press’ undivided attention on the Covid-19 pandemic to “run the cattle herd” through the Amazon, “changing all of the rules and simplifying standards.”

</p> <p>&#8220;We have an opportunity (&#8230;) to pass infralegal reforms of deregulation. (&#8230;) With the environment, it&#8217;s very difficult to pass any infralegal changes, because it goes straight to the courts the next day. So we need to make an effort here, while we are in this moment of tranquility with regard to the press, which is only talking about Covid-19.&#8221;</p> <p>The &#8220;infralegal&#8221; alterations in question are those which do not require approval from Congress and can be made by way of simple decrees and ordinances. However, as is the case with many of the Environment Ministry&#8217;s controversial changes, many of these moves are challenged in court.</p> <p>Once his statement was made public, Mr. Salles attempted to explain himself by saying his words were in reference to &#8220;reducing bureaucracy and simplifying rules in all areas, using common sense and abiding by the law.&#8221;</p> <h2>The running of the cattle</h2> <p>Indeed, the &#8220;cattle herd&#8221; has already been <a href="">running through the Amazon </a>since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. As we pointed out in our May 20 story, deforestation during April hit the highest level for the month in ten years, with an area five times the size of Paris destroyed during the 30-day period.</p> <p>Indeed, on the day of the fateful April 22 cabinet meeting, Brazil&#8217;s indigenous affairs agency Funai published a rule <a href="">allowing the granting of farming </a>in indigenous lands that are in the process of legalization. As these land recognition processes often take several years to be completed — and no progress has been made under the Bolsonaro administration — the fear of indigenous activists is that by the time they are granted the land, it will already have been destroyed by private interests.</p> <p>While it should be said that Funai is not under the purview of Ricardo Salles&#8217; Environment Ministry — it is instead part of the Justice Ministry — the measure is a long-term demand of the agriculturalist lobby, which is allied with Mr. Salles.</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/2362598" data-url=""><script src=""></script></div> <h2>Dismantling protection agencies</h2> <p>Among the most concrete changes made by the <a href="">Ricardo Salles administration</a> to Brazil&#8217;s environmental protection has been the progressive gutting of the country&#8217;s two main oversight agencies: the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation (ICMBio), and the Brazilian Environmental Protection Agency (Ibama).</p> <p>In the case of the former, which is in charge of monitoring Brazil&#8217;s conservation areas, Mr. Salles has reduced the number of regional ICMBio departments from 11 to 5, leaving just one structure to take care of each of Brazil&#8217;s macro-regions. For comparison, the country&#8217;s North region is larger than India.</p> <p>Beyond simply cutting down the number of regional offices, the Environment Ministry also introduced a rule allowing non-ICMBio employees to be appointed to the roles of department heads. As a result, four of ICMBio&#8217;s five regions are now led by military police officers.</p> <p>Ibama, in turn, has had its own woes, with successive budget cuts and the firing of prominent staff members who had organized operations to crack down on deforestation.</p> <h2>Forests in danger</h2> <p>Elsewhere, a <a href="">presidential decree </a>transferred the responsibility for the concession of <a href="">national forests</a> from the Environment Ministry to the Agriculture Ministry, in a move akin to putting the foxes in charge of the hen house. Agriculturalists have significant sway within the cabinet, and the fear is they will dictate how forests should be preserved and protected, if at all.</p> <p>A source close to the Bolsonaro government told <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong> that the change is part of a larger plan from Ricardo Salles, who intends environmental oversight across the country to follow one rule — the Forest Code — as opposed to the specific laws designed to protect different biomes and regions.</p> <p>The Brazilian Bar Association has stood against the minister&#8217;s actions, saying that Mr. Salles is behaving like a &#8220;scammer.&#8221;&nbsp;</p> <p>“The environment does not belong to [Mr. Salles], just as it does not belong to the state itself. For this reason, no one is free to dispose of it. In fact, it is everyone&#8217;s obligation to defend and preserve the environment for the benefit of present and future generations,” said Marina Gadelha, a bar association representative.

Euan Marshall

Originally from Scotland, Euan Marshall is a journalist who ditched his kilt and bagpipes for a caipirinha and a football in 2011, when he traded Glasgow for São Paulo. Specializing in Brazilian soccer, politics and the connection between the two, he authored a comprehensive history of Brazilian soccer entitled “A to Zico: An Alphabet of Brazilian Football.”

Brenno Grillo

The Brazilian Report's correspondent in Brasília, Brenno has worked as a journalist since 2012, specializing in coverage related to law and the justice system. He has worked for O Estado de S. Paulo, Portal Brasil, ConJur, and has experience in political campaigns.

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