Brazilian scientist fired over deforestation data spat

For the last two weeks, the space agency was criticized and questioned by the government

Danielle Brant Phillippe Watanabe
Brasília and São Paulo

​Brazil's Minister of Science and Technology fired on Friday (2) the director of the National Institute for Space Research (INPE), Ricardo Galvão, after the government considered the agency's deforestation data sensationalist. 

According to Galvão, he was dismissed by Marcos Pontes because what he said about President Jair Bolsonaro (PSL) created an embarrassment. On the 20th, Galvão stated in an interview that "he [Bolsonaro] behaves as if he was in a tavern. That is, he made undue accusations to people of the highest level of Brazilian science, I am not saying just myself, but many other people."

"Given the fact, the way I spoke about the president, has created an embarrassment, and now that is untenable. Then I will be dismissed," said the director on Friday, who said he agreed to his replacement.

Despite having a four-year term that would have ended next year, he said that the institute's bylaws state that the minister could, in a situation of loss of confidence, replace the director of the body.

He also said he had appointed a name to replace him to continue his line of action at the head of the institute, but did not say who it would be, since it the minister has the power to choose the new director of Inpe.

Inpe's former director Ricardo Galvão
Inpe's former director Ricardo Galvão - Rodolfo Moreira/Futura Press/Folhapress

​The resignation comes after repeated criticism from President Jair Bolsonaro and Environment Minister Ricardo Salles to INPE over the past two weeks over data that pointed to high deforestation.

On July 19, at breakfast with foreign journalists, Bolsonaro questioned the deforestation data. "With all the devastation that you accuse us of doing and having done in the past, the Amazon would be gone," he said. "Of course I will talk to the president of INPE. [They are] Repeated matters that only help make the name of Brazil misleading abroad," he said later that day.

The president also stated that INPE's data did not correspond to the truth and suggested that Galvão could be "at the service of some NGO."

Behind the scenes, Minister Marcos Pontes showed support for INPE and the deforestation data. The situation changed, however, when the minister claimed Bolsonaro's "strangeness" regarding deforestation data.

Then, at the Brazilian Society for the Progress of Science annual meeting in Campo Grande, Pontes defended restrictions on the publication of deforestation data.

Information on deforestation produced by INPE - both Deter, used to alert authorities of possible deforestation, as Prodes, which measures annual deforestation - is public and can be accessed through INPE's TerraBrasilis portal.

Translated by Kiratiana Freelon

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