As Amazon Fires Continue Burning, Brazil Seeks to Remove Employees From Environmental Protection Offices

Brazil's government has started legal proceedings to remove employees from three of Amazonas state's four federal environmental defense offices, the Associated Press reported.

The move is the latest threat to the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (Ibama), which is in charge of preventing deforestation in the rainforest, from the administration of President Jair Bolsonaro, who has weakened Brazil's environmental protections since taking office. Amazonas is among the areas most impacted by the region's raging fires, and more than 6,600 occurred in the state last month.

"Everything that the Bolsonaro government has done on the environment and particularly the Amazon, including closing IBAMA field offices, has weakened the agency's capacity to enforce the law and protect the forest, and emboldened scoff-law land grabbers and invaders of indigenous lands and protected areas," Stephan Schwartzman, the senior director of Tropical Forest Policy at the Environmental Defense Fund, told Newsweek.

In December, less a month before he took office, Bolsonaro vowed to stop government agencies from handing out fines for environmental crimes. As part of plans to cut government spending, the president slashed the agency's budget by 25 percent. He has said he wouldn't approve new effort to conserve land for indigenous populations, and his relaxation of environmental regulation has ushered in a wave of deforestation. But those who draw attention to the new trend face possible punishment.

After the Director-General of Brazil's National Institute for Space Research Ricardo Magnus Osório Galvão revealed an increase in Amazon deforestation, Bolsonaro fired the respected physicist. A day before the firing, the Brazilian leader had claimed that individuals within the government were tarnishing the country's image abroad by discussing destruction of the Amazon.

At the beginning of September, 93,000 fires were ablaze, a number higher than any year since 2010 and 60 percent above the figure at the same time last year.

Environmental organizations around the world have heaped attention on the fires, which have evoked celebrity concern and generated statements from global politicians. Prior to the G7 Summit in France last month, French President Emmanuel Macron wrote that "our house is burning," in a tweet describing the fires as "an international crisis" and urging G7 members to foreground the blazes in their discussions. Bolsonaro responded by denouncing Macron's "colonialist mentality."

The global concern has generated unwanted attention on Bolsonaro and his environmental policies, and he has, at times, bristled at the critical focus. When Macron offered $22 million of international aid to help fight the fires, the Brazilian leader said he would not take the funds unless the French president took back comments questioning Bolsonaro's commitment to protecting biodiversity.

In contrast to the worldwide concern about the fires, some farmers in Brazil have supported Bolsonaro's approach. The New York Times reported that some consider the fires a normal part of daily life that enables them to continue cultivating food and livestock.

The deforestation in the Menkragnoti Indigenous Territory in Altamira, Para state, Brazil, is shown from an aerial view on August 28. As fires have burned through the Amazon Rain Forest at an alarming rate this year, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has fired key officials in the country's environmental agencies. JOAO LAET/AFP/Getty Images
As Amazon Fires Continue Burning, Brazil Seeks to Remove Employees From Environmental Protection Offices | News