On Wednesday, May 19, the Minister of the Environment, Ricardo Salles, and the president of IBAMA (Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources), Eduardo Bim, were targeted in a Federal Police search and apprehension task force, Operation Akuanduba, that investigates illegal timber exports to the US and Europe.
Salles is probed for facilitating smuggling activities and for suspicious financial transactions of his law firm. In the first line, the police investigate the participation of the minister as an articulator of “a serious scheme of facilitating the smuggling of forest products” that “operates transnationally”. According to the ruling that allowed the operation, the Ministry would also have put in place “serious obstacles to the auditions of environmental issues by the competent public entities”. The second line of investigation is due to a report by the Financial Activities Control Council (COAF), that points to “extremely atypical financial activities” involving the law firm Carvalho de Aquino e Salles, where the minister is an associate and holds 50% of the shares, which could indicate unlawful enrichment.
Among environmentalists, the feeling is that, despite the Federal Police’s operation, the dismantling of Brazil’s environmental policies is in course, as Salles himself announced in the ministerial meeting of April 22, 2020.
Not accidentally, after 17 years of polemic, the draft bill (PL) 3729/2004 was approved by the National Congress last week, opening the way for flexing norms and exempting several economic activites from environmental licenses. Despite the business lobby behind the proposal, the project should be debated by the Senate in no hurry.
For the president of the Environmental Committee of the National Congress, the congressman Nilto Tatto (PT-São Paulo), the approval of PL 3729 is part of a scenario of actions and setbacks. In his view, the possibility of negotiating with the government and certain sectors of agribusiness is non-existent.
“The reality is we have a minister that is against the environment, so it's a very hard situation. We're going through a period similar to the hardest moment of the dictatorship, when our only chance was international pressure, from foreign countries”, he argues.
Tatto points out that the election of Arthur Lira as the speaker of the Congress and remote votes during the pandemic, that precludes dialogues with entities from the civil society, favored the advancement of Minister Ricardo Salles’s “let them pass through” philosophy.
The “Land-Grabbers Bill”
Among the lobby for flexible rules on pesticides, the permission for mining in indigenous lands, and other like measures, Tatto regards PL 2633/2020 as the rural caucus' priority in the Congress. The bill is a new version of Provisional Measure 910, the so-called Land-Grabbers Provisional Measure, barred in May 2020 after pressure from the opposition.
“If one of these projects come to the Congress, they will put in amendments to open the way for what they really want, that is the regularization of big latifundia. We have 95% of what is needed for family farming's land regularization. The only thing missing is an action by INCRA [National Institute for Colonization and Land Reform], and INCRA’s own capacity to do so”, Tatto explains.
The Senate now debates an alike draft bill that favors the regularization of land invasions. The author is the senator and businessman Irajá Abreu (PSD), known as “the champion of deforestation”.
The son of the senator and former Minister of Agriculture Kátia Abreu, Irajá also authored PL 2963/2019, which permits that foreign persons and companies buy up to 25% of the area of Brazilian cities. The proposal was approved by the Senate in December 2020 and is currently in line to be discussed in the Congress.
More invasions of protected areas
The draft bills legalizing land-grabbing were severely criticized by a group of nine ex-ministers of the environment, who also manifested against the bill that relaxes environmental norms and licenses. The former ministers have requested a meeting with the new speaker of the Senate, Rodrigo Pacheco, and adverted of the need for a public audience before the vote.
One of the ministers, Carlos Minc, was in charge of the ministry from 2008 to 2010. He stresses that land-grabbing has been an issue in Salles’s administration even though the bill has not yet been voted.
A study released by the Socioenvironmental Institute (ISA) on Monday, May 17, revealed that the irregular occupation of protected areas has grown by 56% after Bolsonaro’s election. Based on the Environmental Rural Register (Cadastro Rural Ambiental), the study also proved the direct relations between land-grabbing and the destruction of the Amazon.
“In the last two years, deforestation increased by 63% in areas that suffer from land-grabbing. Land-grabbers take control of the lands illegally, they clear enormous forest areas, increase carbon emissions… Logging makes places hotter and destroys biodiversity, which is included in many treaties we as a country have subscribed to. Marina [Silva] before me, me, Izabella [Teixeira] who succeeded me in the ministry, all of us signed international treaties to protect the forest, and this government is doing the opposite of the commitments that Brazil has made”, Minc affirmed.
Federal Supreme Court
For the former minister, who served during the administration of Luis Inácio Lula da Silva, the few recent successes of environmentalists in the country have had the participation of the Supreme Court. To exemplify, he mentions the attempt to lift the protection of sandbanks and mangroves, carried out by the National Environmental Council (CONAMA), and barred by the Supreme Court.
Operation Akuanduba started this week is another example. The operation was authorized by Supreme Court Minister Alexandre de Moraes, who also allowed a breach in Salles tax and bank secrecy and determined the removal of 10 public agents from trust functions in IBAMA and the Ministry of the Environment.
“Salles will pass. The Amazon, IBAMA, ICMBIO [The Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation], and the Amazon Fund will continue. This situation will not go on for much longer. We need to open our eyes and strengthen the ecological, cultural, and civilizational resistance”, Minc concludes.
The other side
Brasil de Fato has contacted the Ministry of the Environment and the press aides of senator Irajá Abreu but did not receive any response until the publication’s deadline.
Edited by: Isa Chedid