SAO PAULO/BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazil plans to deploy its armed forces to fight deforestation and fires in the Amazon jungle, Vice President Hamilton Mourão said on Wednesday, in an effort protect the world’s largest rainforest where destruction has surged since last year.
Mourão said the country would invoke the same measure that deployed troops to fight forest fires last year, a so-called Guarantee of Law and Order (GLO) decree to be signed by President Jair Bolsonaro.
Amazon deforestation soared to an 11-year high last year, as fires tore through the rainforest, provoking international outcry that Brazil was not doing enough to protect the biome.
Destruction has continued to climb this year. From January to March, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon rose 51% from a year ago, according to preliminary satellite data.
Mourão said the government would establish permanent bases in the Amazon this year for military personnel, federal and state police, environmental agencies and other security forces.
“We already have a plan practically finished for an initiative against deforestation and to prevent fires that start in July and August,” Mourão said.
Mourão did not give details on the timing of the decree.
“If a new GLO is necessary, the armed forces are ready to go again,” Defense Minister Fernando Azevedo said earlier on Wednesday.
The plans to deploy the military come amid signs that the government is rolling back routine environmental enforcement due to the new coronavirus outbreak.
An official at environmental agency Ibama, the government’s main enforcer of environmental laws, told Reuters in March that it would not be able to send as many agents into the field to stop environmental crimes because of health risks.
Environmental advocates worry that will lead destruction to spike further in the rainforest, although Ibama said the cutbacks would be in areas other than the Amazon.
Marcio Astrini, executive secretary for Brazilian advocacy group Climate Observatory, said that the military’s presence will undoubtedly help curb deforestation in the short term, but can’t replace long-term efforts via environmental agencies like Ibama, which are being weakened by Bolsonaro’s administration.
Astrini said the government is “schizophrenic,” with Bolsonaro’s pro-development policies to blame for causing the very destruction that the military is being sent in to stop.
“Sending the military to the Amazon is like medicating a disease of the government’s own creation,” Astrini said.
“It’s a medication that has a short-term effect, it will resolve the problem now. ... It won’t cure the disease. The disease that exists in the Amazon today is Bolsonaro.”
Reporting by Eduardo Simoes and Jake Spring; Additional reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Brad Haynes, Steve Orlofsky, Lisa Shumaker and Jonathan Oatis