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Bolsonaro "Captain Chainsaw"

An activist wearing a mask depicting Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro—who has called himself "Captain Chainsaw"—takes part in a September 5, 2019 Rio de Janeiro demonstration against the administration's environmental policies and the destruction of the Amazon rainforest. (Photo: Mauro Pimentel/AFP via Getty Images)

Green Groups Blame Bolsonaro Policies as Amazon Deforestation Sets New Monthly Record

"The Bolsonaro administration is abetting deforestation and environmental crime," said one campaigner, "and what we harvest are these terrible, scary, revolting numbers."

Brett Wilkins

Brazil's space research agency revealed Friday that deforestation in the country's Amazon rainforest last month shattered the previous record for April, a development one conservation campaigner called "very scary" and an indication of the criminal level of environmental destruction occurring under the administration of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro.

"The Amazon is controlled by landowners, illegal loggers, and miners. Crime is the reality."

The National Institute for Space Research said nearly 400 square miles of the world's largest rainforest was destroyed in Brazil last month, an area the size of 1,400 soccer fields and by far the biggest loss for April since record-keeping began in 2015, Agence France-Presse reports.

It is the third monthly record set in the past four months, and represents a nearly 75% increase in forest loss over last April.

"This figure is extremely high for this period of the year," World Wide Fund for Nature (formerly World Wildlife Fund) science director Mariana Napolitano said in a statement. "It's an alert of the immense pressure the forest is under."

Suely Araújo, senior public policy specialist at the Climate Observatory, a network of environmental groups, told the Associated Press that "the April number is very scary. Due to the rain, it is traditionally a month with less deforestation."

"We need a regional development model that is compatible with environmental protection," she added. "The solution is not simply paving roads. The Amazon is controlled by landowners, illegal loggers, and miners. Crime is the reality."

Since Bolsonaro, a self-described "Captain Chainsaw," took office in 2019, average annual Amazon forest loss has soared by more than 75% from the previous decade. Green and human rights groups accuse Bolsonaro—who early in his administration declared that "the Amazon is open for business"—of encouraging the illegal logging, mining, and clearance for farming and cattle grazing that is devastating the Amazon.

Marcio Astrini, head of the Climate Observatory, told AFP that "the Bolsonaro administration is abetting deforestation and environmental crime, and what we harvest are these terrible, scary, revolting numbers."

Larissa Amorim, a researcher at the conservation group Imazon, says that "to combat deforestation, it is necessary to intensify inspections, especially in the most critical areas," and "apply fines and embargo illegally deforested areas."

However, according to a survey conducted by the monitoring platform MapBiomas in conjunction with the civil society group Instituto Centro de Vida and public data repository Brasil.IO, the government has failed to investigate 97% of deforestation alerts since 2019.

"The weakening of environmental inspection bodies is not by chance, it is a perverse project that has as one of the main results the prescription of environmental crimes without criminals being punished," Greenpeace Brazil Amazon coordinator André Freitas said in a statement Friday.

"With the certainty of impunity, what is already bad will get worse if bills that aim to legalize land grabbing, make environmental licensing more flexible, and open Indigenous lands for mining are approved," he added, referring to the so-called "package of destruction" supported by Bolsonaro and currently making its way through the National Congress.

"It is necessary, once and for all," Freitas added, "to stop this mechanism that has been scrapping public agencies and invest in environmental inspection if we really want to keep the largest tropical forest in the world standing."

During an appearance last month at the Free Land Camp—site of a 10-day protest by over 170 Indigenous groups—Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the former leftist Brazilian president who is seeking to oust Bolsonaro in this October's election, vowed to immediately revoke the current government's policies, to ban mining on Indigenous lands, and to create a Ministry of Indigenous Peoples if he wins.

April's deforestation figures follow the publication in March of a study warning that the ability of the Amazon rainforest to recover from devastating droughts and wildfires has been declining over the past two decades, driving the crucial ecosystem toward a tipping point from which it might not recover.

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