Thursday, January 19, saw the first anti-deforestation operations under President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who has vowed to halt the escalating damage inherited from his predecessor, Jair Bolsonaro. Environmental officers slashed their way through the jungle with machetes in pursuit of criminals.
Reuters exclusively joined environmental agency Ibama’s searches in the rainforest state of Para to prevent illicit logging and ranching.
This week, the agency also conducted raids in the states of Roraima and Acre, according to Ibama environmental enforcement coordinator Tatiane Leite.
On Thursday, around ten Ibama agents and twelve federal police officers left their base in the municipality of Uruara, Pará, in pickup trucks, en route to a cluster of places where satellite pictures revealed unlawful forest cutting by loggers and ranchers.
In 12 hours of traveling on dirt roads that illegally crisscrossed an indigenous reserve, the convoy visited five places that had been deforested and burnt around the time of the election pitting Lula against Bolsonaro in October of last year.
The regions all lie inside the indigenous reserve of Cachoeira Seca, where deforestation is strictly banned.
Four of the parcels looked to have been abandoned, since there were no evidence of people living nearby or the construction of ranches. Knowing that Lula campaigned on a promise to combat deforestation, agents believe that illegal ranchers may have abandoned their efforts to transform unlawful property into profitable pasture.
Givanildo dos Santos Lima, the agent in charge of Ibama’s Uruara mission, stated, “People are aware that government enforcement will become stricter, and they will not be permitted to exploit unlawfully deforested land.”
If the opposing administration had prevailed, you would have found people, well-kept meadows, and livestock here.
In his four years in administration, Bolsonaro slashed personnel and budget for environmental enforcement by Ibama, while the prior president lambasted Ibama for fining farmers and miners.
Despite Ibama’s significant expertise and effectiveness in combating the degradation of the Amazon, Bolsonaro granted the military and then the Justice Ministry control over efforts to combat deforestation, marginalizing the agency.
Bolsonaro deforested an area larger than Denmark, a 60% rise over the previous four years.
In a another region of the reserve, agents discovered a freshly constructed home loaded with chainsaws and food for weeks, indicating that the owners had likely evacuated soon before Ibama’s arrival.
Ibama operatives, flanked by police with semiautomatic guns, carved a passage through the neighboring jungle to reach a 57-foot-by-57-foot area littered with dead trees and charged trunks.
The agents stated that knee-high corn looked to be an attempt to stake a claim to the land in order to convert it into a cow pasture in the future.
“We will return with a helicopter and surprise them,” Lima stated.
He was confident that Ibama would be able to undertake more operations under Lula, with the goal of fining deforesters and discouraging criminals from clearing further land.
On the campaign road a year ago, Lula committed to reinstate Ibama in charge of fighting deforestation with increased funds and manpower. Since he entered office on January 1, more funding and personnel have not yet reached front-line law enforcers.
During his presidency from 2019 to 2022, Bolsonaro’s administration declined Reuters’ requests to join Ibama on missions. His administration issued a gag order prohibiting Ibama agents from speaking to the press, which, according to the agents, has been lifted.
In 2003, when Lula assumed government for the first time, Amazon deforestation was at near-record levels. By the time he left office in 2010, he had decreased deforestation by 72% to near-record levels through tight implementation of environmental legislation.