Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro vowed Saturday to combat “illegal deforestation,” a day after the head of the agency that measures deforestation said he was being sacked after a row over the scale of the problem in the Amazon rainforest.
“We are going to act effectively in the fight against illegal deforestation,” Bolsonaro wrote on his Facebook account, along with a video in which environment minister Ricardo Salles said the government would bring in new technology to measure deforestation with greater precision.
A day earlier, the head of Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE), Ricardo Galvao, said he was being sacked after a row with Bolsonaro over deforestation.
Bolsonaro, a climate change skeptic, claimed the INPE figures “don’t correspond to the truth” and were damaging to the institute and the country.
The president has previously floated the idea of opening up protected rainforest areas to agriculture, a highly controversial move given the existing level of deforestation.
“We cannot accept sensationalism, or the disclosure of inaccurate numbers that cause great damage to Brazil’s image,” Bolsonaro said, reiterating comments from his row over the INPE figures.
The latest data released by INPE, an institution of international repute, shows that deforestation has increased 40 percent in the last two months compared to the same period a year ago.
On Thursday, Bolsonaro, Salles and other ministers had refuted the INPE satellite data and said the methodologies for measuring deforestation would be changed.
The government admits deforestation has increased but insists it is not as great as indicated by the agency.
The sacking of Galvao fueled criticism from environmental groups.
“Bolsonaro knows that his government is primarily responsible for the current destruction of the Amazon. The dismissal of the director of INPE is nothing more than an act of revenge against those who show the truth,” said Marcio Astrini from Greenpeace.
For many years, NGOs defending the environment and the territorial rights of indigenous people have criticized the agriculture industry and major land owners for constantly trying to expand into virgin lands, including those protected by law.
Bolsonaro, though, was helped in his election last year by support from the powerful agriculture lobby.
The president suffered a blow on Thursday when the Supreme Court cancelled a decree transferring the right to demarcate indigenous lands from the National Indian Foundation to the Ministry of Agriculture, a bulwark of the agriculture industry’s interests.
© Agence France-Presse