Check out a list of the main environmental setbacks in Bolsonaro's term

Amnesty for deforestation, censorship, and militarization are some of the environmental policies carried out so far

Translated by: Thiago Moyano

Brasil de Fato | São Paulo (SP) |
Brazil's Environment Minister Ricardo Salles with President Jair Bolsonaro
Brazil's Environment Minister Ricardo Salles with President Jair Bolsonaro - Antonio Cruz/Agência Brasil

In a video of the ministerial meeting on April 22, released by the Brazilian Federal Supreme Court, Environment Minister Ricardo Salles states that the pandemic period would be ideal to pass “infralegal” reforms, aiming at the “simplification” and "deregulation” of environmental laws.

In the sequence, he even summoned other ministers to seize the moment and, in his words, “pass the cattle, changing all the rules”, while the press was too busy dealing with the impact of the new coronavirus in Brazil. On the day of the meeting, Brazil accumulated 45 thousand cases and almost three thousand deaths due to the covid-19. But what did the minister mean by “infralegal reforms” and “passing the cattle”?

According to the dictionary, the term infralegal refers to "acts and notions that are not perfectly in agreement with legal mechanisms". And how about passing the cattle? The colloquial expression is usually intended to refer to some form of ease of entry into something, or somewhere.

The cattle that has already passed: precarization, pesticides, militarization, and censorship

A series of amendments to normative instructions from the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (Ibama by its Brazilian Portuguese acronym), published between March and April, is what can be considered a true passing of the cattle.

Among the amendments, the number four authorizes the regularization of rural properties on indigenous lands. The measure alters the "Declaration of Recognition of Limits," allowing the invasion, exploitation and even commercialization of indigenous lands that have not been approved yet.

Another one is the number 13, which allows the reduction of the distance between populated areas and those in which pesticide spraying occurs.

The practice is considered illegal in most European countries and, for more than 10 years, it has also been responsible for the contamination of rural, indigenous, quilombola (descendants of Afro-Brazilian slaves) communities, and even schools in rural areas.

In early March, the president of Ibama, Eduardo Bim, signed an internal decree that restricted the agency's access to the press. 

In the following month, after the repercussion of Ibama's action against prospectors who worked in indigenous lands in Pará, in the north of Brazil, Salles fired Ibama's director of environmental protection, Olivaldi Azevedo, and two other civil servants who were in charge of the inspections, Hugo Loss and Renê Luiz de Oliveira.

The post of director of environmental protection was then assigned to a colonel from the São Paulo Military Police (PM by its Brazilian Portuguese Acronym), Olímpio Ferreira Magalhães. The other two posts were filled by the PM colonel Walter Mendes Magalhães Júnior and the server Leslie Tavares, who was an environmental analyst at Ibama in Manaus (capital of Amazonas, also in the north of Brazil), investigated in 2019 for having returned boats that had been seized to offending miners.

On May 12, when Brazil reached 3,949 victims from the covid-19, the federal government signed an order that authorized the restructuring of the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation (ICMBio by its Brazilian Portuguese acronym). In practice, this led to a reduction from 11 to 5 in the number of civil servants responsible for 335 protected areas throughout the country.

Besides, the order also allowed for the possibility of positions being occupied by people outside the Institute. The result was that of the five ICMBio management positions, only one is occupied by a career agent from the agency. The other four were given to the military police.

This is another example of an infralegal change, because it did not have to go through the Legislative seal, going into effect immediately.

The cattle that almost passed: land fraud, amnesty for deforestation, and deforestation

After pressure from social movements and NGOs that launched a campaign denouncing Salles' speech, some measures did not go through.

One of them was related to land fraud. Before put to vote as MP 910, the measure was not voted on time and expired. Sponsored by the Agricultural Parliamentary Front, the 2633/2020 bill allows the regularization of illegally occupied public lands. According to analysts, the measure would legalize land fraud, in addition to increasing deforestation in the Amazon, and violence in the countryside.

The infralegal reform aimed at allowing deforestation in the Atlantic Forest, mentioned by the minister during the famous meeting, also failed to pass. Issued as the 4,410 / 2020 dispatch, the proposal also allows for the landowners who were fined for deforestation to be amnestied. The minister annulled the order, but it may be put back in the agenda.

The cattle that is yet to pass: new environmental licensing and forest concession law for agriculture

Despite the extremely negative repercussions of the minister's speech during the meeting, as well as the political and health crisis in the country, the government has not slowed down its progress in approving measures to “simplify” and “deregulate” environmental laws.

On May 25th, President Jair Bolsonaro (No Party) transferred the power to carry out public forest concessions at the federal level from the Environment Minister, Ricardo Salles, to the Ministry of Agriculture, led by Tereza Cristina.

Another example of a major action is the preparation for voting on the environmental licensing bill. The fourth version of the project, which has been in the Chamber for 15 years, written by Congressman Kim Kataguiri (DEM-SP), was criticized for proposing an even greater loosening of the rules for the licensing.

The 3729/2004 bill intends to give full autonomy for each state to define, independently, what the rules of its licensing processes will be the text does not provide any environmental compensation for indirect impacts caused by the projects.

The bill also withdraws Chico Mendes Institute's power to veto the undertakings. Another controversial item attributes to the farmers' Rural Environmental Registry the same legal standing as an environmental license.

Edited by: Leandro Melito