Editorial: Salles Needs to Leave

Bolsonaro must show that survival instinct overcomes ideological obsession

In the coming weeks, Jair Bolsonaro's government will face a bombardment of public opinion, domestic and foreign, on its environmental record. Amid the proliferation of forest fires, the administration must change its tune on the environment.

The National Institute for Space Research will soon publish the annual data on deforestation in the Amazon. The collection of satellite images that will show in detail where the forest has been cleared since August 2019 has ended on July 31.

In the previous period, 2018-19, devastation grew 34% and reached 10,129 km², equivalent to half the area of Sergipe. That the figure may exceed 13 thousand km², exposing the federal government to a new volley of criticisms.

It will not be good news for an impotent administration in the face of the fire that has consumed a quarter of the Pantanal. Until Tuesday (6), there were 19,215 fires in the floodplain since January —the highest number recorded by INPE since 1998 and triple that detected in the same period of 2019.

It would certainly be foolish to attribute all the blame to the policies of Bolsonaro and his environment minister, Ricardo Salles. This year's drought in the Pantanal is the biggest in decades, and the atmospheric temperature frequently rises to around 40ºC, which makes it almost impossible to control the flames.

(Zanone Fraissat-3.fev.20/Folhapress)

The last decade was the hottest on record on the planet, with its corollary of heatwaves and prolonged droughts. Devastating forest fires have occurred in other parts of the planet in 2020, such as California and Australia, in recent years, also in Europe and Siberia.

Some Pantanal ranch owners have been identified as initiators of unauthorized fires. Still, there is no news of a criminal initiative such as the "day of fire" in the Amazon in 2019.

Moreover, the perfect storm surprised the government in a weakened condition, with the limitations imposed by the pandemic and the budget shortage.

However, it would be unreasonable to conclude that only the lack of resources prevented fighting fires and clearing. The situation has become even more difficult due to a president who denies the climate crisis and a minister committed to dismantling the area.

Let's remember that Salles dismantled the billion-dollar Amazon Fund agreement with Norway and Germany, in the name of the supposedly threatened sovereignty. BNDES managed the application of resources in initiatives to combat devastation.

Proof of the ministry's inaction is the low number of assessments by Ibama, a fixation by the president. The agency languishes, as does ICMBio, in charge of conservation units.

Tax agents are transferred as punishment for acting strictly or are unavailable due to Covid's risk. The legal destruction of illegal machines ends up unauthorized by the president and the minister. Salles fills leadership positions in municipalities with inexperienced military police in the Amazon.

The minister is irremediably associated with the present Pantanal and Amazon disaster. It threatens the future of biomes and the country's prestige, which sees the European Union's agreement with Mercosur collapse in the growing trend of condemnation. It increases the risk of an international boycott of Brazilian commodities.

The alarm went off. Companies of different sizes and industries are defending the Amazon; sectors of agribusiness are rejecting anti-environmental policies.

Bolsonaro and his deputy, General Hamilton Mourão, insist that there is an unfair campaign against Brazil, as the president repeated at the UN. They make us believe that it all comes down to a battle of narratives when facts are attested by satellites.

Whether for commercial and diplomatic pragmatism or to maintain his government's political support, the president needs to make a more sensible gesture than to throw away money in an innocuous military adventure in the Amazon.

The first step should be the departure of Ricardo Salles. Keeping an auxiliary with such a reputation will only serve to inspire permanent mistrust of the government - which, after prudent appeasement with Congress and the Supreme Court, needs to demonstrate that its survival instinct overcomes ideological obsessions.


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