Brazil sends thousands of troops to protect Amazon rainforest amid concerns about surge in deforestation

Vice president says country does not want to be labelled as 'an environmental villain'

Conrad Duncan
Tuesday 12 May 2020 14:34
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Drone footage shows recently deforested land in the Amazon

Brazil has deployed thousands of soldiers to protect the Amazon rainforest due to concerns about surging deforestation ahead of the country's high season for forest fires.

Deforestation in the country’s Amazon surged by 55 per cent in the first four months of 2020 compared with the same period last year, according to government data released on Friday.

The increase came after destruction of the rainforest hit an 11-year high last year, prompting international outcry from world leaders and other public figures over efforts to protect the world’s largest rainforests.

Hamilton Mourao, Brazil’s vice president, told a news conference on Monday that the armed forces, alongside environmental officials, police and other government agencies, had begun an operation in a national forest in Rondonia state, near the Bolivian border.

“We don't want to be labelled by the rest of the world as an environmental villain,” Mr Mourao said.

Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro, who has previously dismissed criticism of his response to forest fires, authorised the decision to deploy troops three months earlier than in 2019.

Fernando Azevedo, the defence minister, said armed forces were establishing bases in three Amazon cities, with 3,800 troops mobilised against illegal logging and other crimes, at an initial cost of 60 million reais (£8.4m).

Mr Mourao said the military was currently authorised for deployment for 30 days until 10 June but this could be extended as the dry season approaches, when forest fires tend to spread.

“We have no doubt this problem will continue to exist,” the vice president said.

“We don't consider this the best job for the armed forces, to be always engaged in this type of action, but unfortunately it's the means we have to limit these crimes from happening.”

He added that the armed forces would continue to be used until environment agencies, such as the enforcement agency Ibama, increase their staff - as budget restriction and an economic downturn has prevented Ibama from hiring new agents.

Ricardo Salles, Brazil’s environment minister, acknowledged that government data showed rising deforestation this year and said the coronavirus pandemic had “aggravated” the situation, without explaining exactly how.

The minister said he was confident the government's actions would succeed in lowering deforestation from the elevated levels seen in the last two years.

Additional reporting by agencies

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