Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro has signed a decree to send soldiers to the Amazon in an effort to curb surging deforestation.
The decree, published in the country’s official gazette, said soldiers would go to the states of Para, Amazonas, Mato Grosso and Rondonia for two months until the end of August.
It did not provide details about the number of troops to be deployed nor the cost of the operation.
Deforestation in the rainforest has been increasing for several years but surged after the 2018 election of Mr Bolsonaro who repeatedly called for development of the region.
In 2020, deforestation in the Amazon reached a level unseen since 2008, according to official data.
The destruction has elicited an international outcry and, more recently, an effort by US President Joe Biden‘s administration to urge Mr Bolsonaro to get tough on illegal logging.
This will mark the third time that Mr Bolsonaro has dispatched troops to the Amazon, following two “Operation Green Brazil” deployments, the most recent of which ended in April.
Each mission involved thousands of soldiers. Still, environmental experts have said the military was ill-prepared and had limited efficacy.
According to data released this month by the MapBiomas Project, a network of nonprofits, universities and technology companies that studies Brazilian land use, 98.9% of deforestation had indications of illegality, either done near springs, in protected areas or carried out without requisite authorisation.
Brazil‘s environmental regulator levied fines in just 5% of these cases, the group found.
Marcio Astrini, executive secretary of the Climate Observatory, a network of environmental nonprofit groups, called the latest military deployment a “smokescreen” that will allow the government to claim to be fighting deforestation.
He noted a previously successful initiative, largely funded by the Norwegian and German governments, has been suspended since 2019.
Mr Astrini said: “The government has adopted a series of measures that simply destroys the state’s monitoring capacity, like stopping environmental fines.”
He added that the regulator has also ceased destroying machinery used for illegal logging.
Mr Bolsonaro’s plan to send soldiers comes as the US administration called for curbing Amazon deforestation in order to help arrest climate change.
Mr Bolsonaro has said Brazil lacks enough funds to do so on its own, despite the fact the nation did so at the start of this century.
The US has made clear it would only be willing to contribute once Brazil registers concrete progress, of which there has so far been no sign.
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