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Brazil deploys military to protect Amazon rainforest

May 12, 2020

The Brazilian government has launched a military deployment to conserve the world's largest rainforest. The development comes just days after satellite images showed a surge in deforestation this year.

Smoke billows from a fire in the Amazon rainforest
Image: Reuters/B. Kelly

Brazil deployed its military to protect the Amazon rainforest on Monday, starting with an operation to stop environmental destruction in a national forest near the Bolivian border, Vice President Hamilton Mourao said. 

The operation to halt illegal logging and mining activities in the world's largest rainforest will be carried out with the help of environmental authorities, police, and other government agencies, Mourao said in a press conference.

Authorities have set up bases for the operation in three Amazon cities, and 3,800 troops have been mobilized, Defense Minister Fernando Azevedo e Silva announced. The initial cost of the operation is estimated at 60 million Brazilian reais (€9.54 million, $10.31 million).

Alarming trend

On Friday, data from Brazil's National Space Research Institute (INPE) showed a surge in deforestation this year. 

More than 1,200 square kilometers of forest in the Brazilian Amazon was wiped out in the first four months of 2020, a 55% increase from the same period last year, according to the government agency which tracks environmental destruction via satellite images.

Read more: Brazil's Amazon rainforest has become the Wild West for illegal gold miners

These figures, the highest for the first four months of the year since 2015, are alarming since the high season of forest fires is still weeks away.

Last year, wildfires and illegal deforestation ravaged over 10,000 square kilometers of the Amazon from May to October, raising worldwide alarm over the future of the rainforest seen as vital to curbing climate change. 

Amazon under Bolsonaro

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro last week authorized the army to deploy to the Amazon to combat wildfires and illegal destructive activities. He did the same last year, sending armed forces to the region after the record-breaking deforestation sparked international criticism.

This time, he has sent in the army three months earlier than last year.

Read more: Where could Brazil's investigation of Bolsonaro lead?

Environmentalists blame the policies of Bolsonaro, a climate change skeptic, for the surge in the destruction of the Amazon. The right-wing president has previously advocated for mining and farming activities in the protected areas of the forest.

Under his presidency, Brazil's environmental agency IBAMA has faced staffing and budget cuts.

Twin challenges

The effort to combat deforestation is made more complicated by the coronavirus pandemic, with fewer environmental enforcement agents in the field due to the increased health risk. 

Read more: How deforestation can lead to more infectious diseases 

Brazil is the epicenter of the pandemic in Latin America, with more than 11,000 deaths. The state of Amazonas, one of the hardest-hit regions of the country, has just one intensive care unit. The virus has taken up most of the scarce resources, and attention, overwhelming the state's capacity to protect the forest.

adi/jsi (Reuters, AFP) 

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