Ricado Salles, the man who has led Brazil’s environmental policy since Jair Bolsonaro became president, resigned this Wednesday, according to reports. O’Globo. Ricardo Sallles resigns weeks after the opening of two police investigations against him, one for links to an illegal timber trafficking case and the other for allegedly obstructing investigations in a deforestation case. His resignation coincides with renewed US environmental interest brought by President Joe Biden and with a sharp increase in alerts for illegal logging in Amazonia, the world’s largest rainforest.
The minister has cited personal reasons for leaving the post. He is replaced by Joaquim Pereira Leite, who until now was responsible for the department of Amazonia and environmental services in the ministry.The pressures for Bolsonaro to let him down are many and old. And despite this and the constant departures and arrivals of ministers to the Government, especially Health, Bolsonaro had so far resisted his leaving office. This same Tuesday he publicly congratulated him during an event in Brasilia: “Congratulations, Ricardo Salles. It is not easy to direct your ministry ”.
In both cases for which Salles is investigated, there is a suspicion that the wood was illegally extracted in the Amazon. The authorities are investigating whether the resigning minister and other officials in his ministry acted to the benefit of the loggers in exchange for financial advantages. The police pointed to Salles after detecting “suspicious movements” in the law firm of which the minister is a partner. The amount that raised these suspicions is 14 million reais. But the minister’s earnings while he held public office in the Government of São Paulo between 2016 and 2017, when his income increased from one million reais to almost nine million, is also in the spotlight.
Amazonia lost 11,088 square kilometers of trees in the last year, 9.5% more than the previous year. The balance, released last November, is the worst in the last twelve years. And monthly satellite alerts show that this year’s numbers may be even worse. The deployment of thousands of military personnel in Amazonia to stop the fires after the Amazon fires scandal in August 2019 has proved ineffective despite the fortune it has cost.
One of the most memorable moments of Salles’ mandate is a phrase he uttered during an explosive Council of Ministers in April 2020, the video of which was released by order of the Supreme Court. “Now that we are in a moment of tranquility because the media is focused on the covid, we have to take the opportunity to approve the boiada and simplify the rules, ”he said. Boiada, that comes from boi (ox), comes to mean in this context the flexibility through legal changes of environmental standards to facilitate the expansion of pastures for livestock.
Bolsonaro is under pressure from several fronts. On the one hand, the pandemic. The revelations that emanate daily from the Senate commission of inquiry that analyzes his management of the health crisis is wearing him down. The rejection of him increases although he maintains a support of 25%, according to the polls. And on the environmental front, scrutiny has intensified since the US reverted to the Paris Agreement.
Biden convened a climate summit in April with leaders from around the world to celebrate the return of the United States to the front row of the fight against climate change. Bolsonaro attended that meeting promising to reduce deforestation to levels and within the deadlines already promised by his predecessors and in search of international funds to strengthen the fight against fires and illegal logging in Amazonia. And the day after the summit, he cut the budget of the Ministry of the Environment in half.
The dismantling of the environmental policy undertaken by Bolsonaro with Salles at the head of the ministry was first denounced by the previous holders of the portfolio, those of the left and those of the right. Both the president and the environmental minister had been fined for environmental offenses.
Subscribe here to newsletter from EL PAÍS América and receive all the informative keys of the current situation of the region.