Brazil plans to militarize Amazon while ignoring deforestation

. Nov 25, 2020
amazon military Brazilian army soldier during anti-deforestation military mission in the Amazon. Photo: Estevam/CComSEx/EB

In the name of national sovereignty, Brazil’s armed forces have had troops stationed in the Amazon since the Brazilian Empire of the 19th century, when the country was ruled by a constitutional monarchy. Spanning over 5.5 million square meters, the Brazilian Amazon is seen as strategic territory by the military, bordering seven neighboring countries. Today, almost 200 years since Brazil’s last monarch Pedro II sent troops to the region, the Amazon has its largest military contingent in history.

Based in the northern city of Manaus, the Amazon Military Command comprises a regiment of over 17,000 men and women, often receiving reinforcements of up to 3,500 additional troops for certain exercises.

</p> <p>And, if it were up to President Jair Bolsonaro — himself a former Army captain — this contingent will increase further.</p> <p>Signed by vice president and retired four-star Army general Hamilton Mourão, a plan to militarize the region was submitted to Brazil&#8217;s Economy Ministry earlier this month. Referred to by environmentalists as the &#8220;Mourão Plan,&#8221; it includes proposals &#8220;to lay the foundations for the militarization of the Amazon, in order to promote environmental preservation and the sustainable development of the Legal Amazon.&#8221;</p> <p>The plan avails itself of 20th century arguments that the Amazon is threatened by &#8220;international greed&#8221; and cites baseless claims that foreign countries are colluding with NGOs to denigrate the image of the Brazilian government and increase their influence on the Amazon. The term &#8220;sovereignty&#8221; appears 14 times; in order to maintain it, the plan forecasts &#8220;preventive, protective, and reactive legal measures.&#8221;</p> <p>Among the conspiracy theories — endorsed and spread by President Jair Bolsonaro, his politician sons, and many of his supporters — are claims that Brazil has resources which are coveted by major global powers, and that that country is in a form of &#8220;war,&#8221; against unpatriotic environmentalists in cahoots with European nations and China.</p> <iframe src="" width="100%" height="232" frameborder="0" allowtransparency="true" allow="encrypted-media"></iframe> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Preservation actions nowhere to be seen</h2> <p>Civil society organization <a href="">Observatório do Clima</a> released part of the Mourão Plan last weekend, which had previously been kept under wraps by the federal government. One of the primary documents consists of a <a href="">PowerPoint presentation</a> listing 53 &#8220;strategic priority actions,&#8221; largely related to simply expanding military control over the Amazon, or implementing measures that already exist.</p> <p>&#8220;It&#8217;s a plan to lay the foundation for the militarization of the Amazon (&#8230;) not a plan of preventing and <a href="">combating deforestation</a> and environmental destruction in the biome,&#8221; said the organization.</p> <p>Throughout the Mourão Plan, the National Institute of Space Research (Inpe) — which monitors fires and deforestation around Brazil by way of satellites — does not get a single mention. Environmental protection agency Ibama and the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation (ICMBio) are only mentioned once apiece, in a section discussing the agencies&#8217; &#8220;restructuring&#8221; and &#8220;indoctrination.&#8221; Meanwhile, &#8220;Defense Ministry&#8221; appears 22 times throughout the document.</p> <p>The Observatório do Clima believes that the plan&#8217;s intentions are clear, to the effect of &#8220;reviewing&#8221; conservation units and indigenous reservations, restricting the operations of NGOs by way of regulation, and gaining control of environmental monitoring for the Defense Ministry.</p> <p>Outraged that the document was leaked to the press, Vice President Hamilton Mourão attempted to play down the authority of the militarization plan for the Amazon, claiming the material &#8220;just [contained] studies.&#8221;</p> <p>&#8220;If I were the president, I&#8217;d be extremely irritated. I regret not making the document confidential. Because then, the person who leaked it would have committed a crime.&#8221;</p> <figure class="wp-block-image size-large"><img loading="lazy" width="800" height="533" src="" alt="Military Amazon missions are not cost-effective. Photo: Estevam/CComSEx/EB" class="wp-image-53191" srcset=" 800w, 300w, 768w, 600w" sizes="(max-width: 800px) 100vw, 800px" /><figcaption>Logging plant busted: Military Amazon missions are not cost-effective. Photo: Estevam/CComSEx/EB</figcaption></figure> <h2>Military actions: more expensive, less effective</h2> <p>With five times more personnel in the Amazon than Ibama, the Brazilian Army still manages to carry out fewer oversight operations. Since the Defense Ministry launched Operation Green Brazil 2 in May, the number of fines and property seizures have fallen, despite receiving a beefed-up budget and an extra 3,400 troops.</p> <p>Amid international pressure on Brazil to take effective measures against deforestation in the Amazon, all actions to fight the destruction of the biome have been overseen by the Defense Ministry since May 11. Since the creation of Ibama in 1989, this is the first time the agency has been relinquished of its control over environmental operations in the region.</p> <p>Without giving further details, the Defense Ministry reported that BRL 1.79 billion (USD 340 million) in fines have been applied since May. In the same period of 2019, Ibama alone dishes out BRL 2.12 billion in fines for environmental violations in the Amazon — 18 percent more, with only one-fifth of the staff.</p> <p>Deforestation in the Amazon is set to increase roughly 30 percent this year, according to <a href="">Inpe data</a>.

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Renato Alves

Renato Alves is a Brazilian journalist who has worked for Correio Braziliense and Crusoé.

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