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Brazil prosecutors target minister over Amazon destruction

July 7, 2020

Ricardo Salles is accused of promoting policies that "violate" his duty to protect the environment. In 2019, wildfires raged through Brazil's Amazon rainforest and experts fear a repeat this year.

Jair Bolsonaro with Ricardo Salles
Image: Fabio Rodrigues Pozzebom/Agencia Brasil

Brazilian prosecutors on Monday called for the dismissal of the country's environment minister, alleging "countless initiatives that violate the duty to protect the environment." 

At the heart of the allegations is that Ricardo Salles, 45, played a fundamental role in increasing deforestation in the Amazon by removing measures designed to protect the rainforest.

The charge sheet also includes "administrative dishonesty," in promoting interests unrelated to his role in government, echoing suggestions from other sectors that claim Salles supported the legalization of mining activities in protected areas.

Read more: As coronavirus and deforestation soar in Brazil, groups take Bolsonaro to court

The minister oversaw a 25% reduction in environmental funding, as well as the freezing of an international financial package to combat deforestation. This in turn "directly contributed" to an upsurge in the permanent removal of trees, according to a statement by 12 public prosecutors.

The prosecutors want Salles' political rights suspended and for him to pay damages, as well as receive a financial penalty for his conduct.

Salles courted controversy recently when he was recorded saying the government should take advantage of the coronavirus pandemic to ease environmental regulations.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has received widespread criticism for his relaxed attitude towards the exploitation of the Amazon forest, as well as a number of other environmental issues. He has frequently made questionable claims about the environment, including last year blaming NGOs for the fires that raged through the Amazon. He provided no evidence to support his claim.

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Fires in Brazil's Amazon rainforest increased by almost 20% in June, the highest recorded for 13 years for the month.

In 2019 wildfires led to protests within Brazil and elsewhere. And as this year's dry season takes hold, environmentalists have expressed grave concern that 2020 is on track to be the most destructive year ever for the world's biggest rainforest.

The Amazon spans numerous countries in South America, but is 60% in Brazil, and it is a vital carbon store that slows down the pace of global warming.

jsi/rc (AFP, EFE)