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World News

Brazil fires top parks official in latest environmental reshuffle, sources say

BRASILIA (Reuters) - The head of Brazil’s national parks service has been removed, two people with knowledge of the matter told Reuters, in the latest management change under the right-wing government, which has sought to weaken environmental protections.

Environmental Minister Ricardo Salles fired Homero Cerqueira from the top job at ICMBio, which oversees Brazil’s parks and other protected nature reserves, one of the sources said.

The dismissal follows Salles’ visit to the Brazilian Pantanal, the world’s largest wetland, to observe efforts to fight fires that are on pace to hit a monthly record in August.

A second source said that Salles, following consultations with farmers in the Pantanal, had criticized ICMBio’s response to the fires before Cerqueira’s exit. The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because the decision had not been announced.

Salles did not immediately respond to request for comment. A spokesman for the Environmental Ministry, which controls ICMBio, declined to immediately comment.

A video of a minister’s meeting with President Jair Bolsonaro released in May under a court order in an unrelated investigation showed Salles calling for environmental deregulation while the public is distracted by the COVID-19 crisis.

Salles said at the time that he wants to cut red tape, saying it holds back economic development.

A 2019 Reuters investigation found systemic efforts to weaken environmental enforcement at another key agency.

Under Bolsonaro, climate change officials and environmental enforcement chiefs have been fired in the past year.

ICMBio oversees the roughly 19% of Brazil’s territory that falls under various types of heightened federal protections. Nearly 29% of the Amazon rainforest, seen by scientists as a vital curb on climate change because of the vast amount of carbon dioxide it absorbs, is under ICMBio’s protection.

Reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu and Jake Spring. Editing by Gerry Doyle

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