“They’re shooting the messenger.”

These were the words of Antônio Nobre, Amazon expert and researcher of the Brazilian Institute of Space Research (Inpe), upon hearing that director Ricardo Galvão had been fired by the Jair Bolsonaro government.

</p> <p>The institute has been in the spotlight in recent weeks, after having its latest data on deforestation contested by the president, who questioned the veracity of the numbers from what is a highly respected research institute. This was coupled with mounting pressure on Brazil from the international press to act quickly and <a href="https://brazilian.report/society/2019/06/05/amazon-rainforest-at-the-crossroads/">save the Amazon rainforest</a>.</p> <p>After <em><a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/28/world/americas/brazil-deforestation-amazon-bolsonaro.html">The New York Times</a></em> published a front-page story on the Amazon at the end of July, British magazine <em><a href="https://www.economist.com/leaders/2019/08/01/deathwatch-for-the-amazon">The Economist</a></em> also brought the subject to its cover last week, in a scathing report entitled &#8220;Deathwatch for the Amazon.&#8221;</p> <h2>You can&#8217;t handle the truth!</h2> <p>In mid-July, the Real-Time Deforestation Detection (Deter) system—an Inpe department specializing in deforestation figures—published its latest deforestation numbers for the month of June. Using satellite imagery, the institute calculated that levels of tree clearing in the Amazon were 88 percent higher than in June 2018, a piece of news which troubled the Jair Bolsonaro government.&nbsp;</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/561719"></div><script src="https://public.flourish.studio/resources/embed.js"></script> <p>Concerned with Brazil&#8217;s image abroad, Jair Bolsonaro erroneously branded the data as conspiratorial, questioning potential ulterior motives of Inpe director, Ricardo Galvão.</p> <p>&#8220;Of course I&#8217;m going to talk to the president [sic] of Inpe,&#8221; Mr. Bolsonaro fumed. &#8220;These are repetitive stories which only help to put Brazil in a bad light abroad.&#8221;</p> <p>Despite claiming that he &#8220;did not want to infer potential links to this or that,&#8221; the president did in fact infer that Mr. Galvão was &#8220;working for some NGO.&#8221;&nbsp;</p> <p>&#8220;It&#8217;s odd because [the deforestation figures] came at a time when Brazil is giving clear signals of a recovering economy.&#8221;</p> <p>Despite being in office for less than eight months, the current government already has a history of denying data on deforestation. General Augusto Heleno, one of Jair Bolsonaro&#8217;s closest advisors and the government&#8217;s head of institutional security, has repeatedly derided statistics on the Amazon rainforest using a clearly fallacious argument.</p> <p>&#8220;If you add up all the percentages they&#8217;ve announced so far on Amazon deforestation, the Amazon would already be a desert!&#8221; he claims, with an evident misunderstanding of mathematics.</p> <figure class="wp-block-image"><img src="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/Amazon-deforestation-Brazil-Bolsonaro-1024x647.png" alt="Amazon deforestation Brazil Bolsonaro" class="wp-image-22005" srcset="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/Amazon-deforestation-Brazil-Bolsonaro-1024x647.png 1024w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/Amazon-deforestation-Brazil-Bolsonaro-300x190.png 300w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/Amazon-deforestation-Brazil-Bolsonaro-768x485.png 768w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/Amazon-deforestation-Brazil-Bolsonaro-610x385.png 610w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/Amazon-deforestation-Brazil-Bolsonaro-460x290.png 460w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/Amazon-deforestation-Brazil-Bolsonaro.png 1230w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /><figcaption>Amazon rainforest: areas in yellow show deforestation</figcaption></figure> <h2>Deforestation: the boffins bite back</h2> <p>Cornered by the administration, Inpe director Ricardo Galvão shot back at Jair Bolsonaro, knowing full well that he was putting his job on the line. Speaking to <em>Jornal Nacional</em>, the biggest TV news show in Brazil, he mused that Jair Bolsonaro &#8220;behaves as if he was in a bar.&#8221;</p> <p>&#8220;He makes undue accusations to people of the highest level of Brazilian science. Not just me, but many others … It&#8217;s a joke from a 14-year-old boy that is not befitting of the President of Brazil,&#8221; said Mr. Galvão, before calling the president&#8217;s attitude &#8220;fainthearted and cowardly.&#8221;</p> <h2>Bad Brazilians</h2> <p>In the back-and-forth of insults between Mr. Bolsonaro and Mr. Galvão, the president resorted to a common strategy of his and other in vogue populist right-wing leaders: bringing the patriotism of his detractors into question.</p> <p>Mr. Bolsonaro suggested that upon receiving such a figure, the head of Inpe should have &#8220;ran&#8221; to cabinet ministers to warn them of the numbers. Referring to Ricardo Galvão&#8217;s institute publishing the figures as normal, the president said it &#8220;was not the position of a Brazilian, of someone who wants to serve his motherland.&#8221;</p> <p>&#8220;The entire world has its eye [on the Amazon]. That&#8217;s why some bad Brazilians dare to use untruthful numbers against us,&#8221; claimed Mr. Bolsonaro.</p> <h2>Same as the old boss? Not quite</h2> <p>In the most predictable staff reshuffle of 2019, Science and Technology Minister Marcus Pontes fired Ricardo Galvão earlier this week, bringing in Darcton Policarpo Damião as the caretaker director.</p> <p>Mr. Damião is an aeronautic science graduate from the Air Force Academy, and holds a master&#8217;s degree in remote sensing from Inpe, and a Ph.D. in sustainable development from the University of Brasília.</p> <p>Speaking to newspaper <em>O Globo</em> one day after his appointment, he sent shivers down the spine of Brazilian academics when he claimed climate change affected by humans was &#8220;not [his] thing.&#8221; From what he has read on the matter, he is reportedly not yet convinced of humanity&#8217;s role in global warming.</p> <p>With all said and done and Ricardo Galvão fired from his post as Inpe director, Deter published its latest deforestation figures for the month of July this week. The numbers were shocking, though nevertheless bordered on poetic justice, in light of the government&#8217;s attempt to suppress them. In July 2019, Inpe calculated that deforestation increased by 278 percent in relation to July 2018.

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PowerAug 09, 2019

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BY Euan Marshall

Euan Marshall is a Scottish journalist living in São Paulo. He is co-author of A to Zico: An Alphabet of Brazilian Football.