BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) — Brazil's Vice President Hamilton Mourão said on Friday that a deployment of soldiers to the Amazon rainforest will end, just weeks before the global climate conference where the administration aims to show commitment to curbing illegal deforestation.
Nearly 3,000 soldiers have been in the Amazon for just over three months, working to prevent deforestation and man-made fires. The deployment is the third in President Jair Bolsonaro's administration, stemming from a decree signed in late June, and was extended once already. That extension went through Friday.
Mourão, who coordinates the government's Amazon Council, said the government decided to end the program because environmental authorities once again have the ability to carry out oversight.
“The environmental agencies have more people now able to work,” he said, claiming the pandemic hampered their ability to patrol and citing recently proposed expansion of the environment ministry’s budget. “It was agreed that the armed forces will continue providing logistical support and intelligence.”
The 2022 budget increase has yet to be approved by Congress. This year, the ministry’s budget was the least in 13 years.
Since taking office, Bolsonaro’s government weakened environmental authorities by slashing funding and punishing employees who spoke out. More recently, he has sought to demonstrate heightened environmental commitment in the face of criticism from the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden and troubled institutional investors.
His administration first deployed soldiers in 2019 as destruction of the Amazon drew global outcry. Environmentalists and activists and specialists have dismissed reliance on the military as ineffective for preservation; an Associated Press investigation last year reached the same conclusion.
Putting boots on the ground can be helpful, and has been in the past, but only when linked to a comprehensive strategy to decrease deforestation in conjunction with other environmental authorities, according to Márcio Astrini, executive secretary of the Climate Observatory, a network of environmental nonprofit groups.
“Enforcement still has low numbers, the charging of environmental fines remains paralyzed,” Astrini said.
Yet there has been a significant drop in the number of Amazon fires over the past three months as compared to the same period of 2020. Astrini said improved numbers are despite the government's efforts, not because of them.
At the U.N. General Assembly last month, Bolsonaro credited his administration’s redoubled efforts for the plunge of Amazon deforestation alerts in August, which followed a year-on-year decline in July. They were slightly higher in September compared to the same month in 2020.