World News

Brazil fires official after comments on illegal Amazon mining fight

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - A regional head of Brazil’s environmental authority was fired on Wednesday, a week after being named, after he made public comments saying he would no longer burn machinery, some of it seized from illegal miners, in an area heavily affected by forest fires.

FILE PHOTO: A tree burns in a deforested area in Jamanxim National Forest, in the Amazon near Novo Progresso, Para state, Brazil September 10, 2019. REUTERS/Amanda Perobelli/File Photo

Evandro Cunha dos Santos was tapped to run environmental enforcement in the northern state of Pará. His role included sanctioning loggers, miners and farmers who felled trees or set fires to clear forest land, amid increasing denuding of the Amazon rainforest that has drawn a global outcry.

On Wednesday, the government’s official gazette said he had been dismissed. The environmental agency he left, known as Ibama, and the ministry that oversees it, did not immediately respond to questions about his dismissal.

Brazil’s conservation efforts have come under scrutiny this year amid the worst fires in the Amazon rainforest since 2010. Far-right President Jair Bolsonaro has called for rolling back conservation rules to allow more development of the region’s natural resources.

Punishment of environmental crimes has plummeted on Bolsonaro’s watch, and Ibama employees have complained that the government has tied their hands and hampered enforcement.

Miners protested the government’s crackdown in Pará on Monday by closing a major highway used to transport soybeans and corn to a key river port in the state, demanding that officials stop burning their equipment during raids.

“Be assured that this will stop,” Santos said that day, referring to the practice of burning seized machinery. “I’m a soldier and I know how to follow an order.”

In April, Bolsonaro said in a video published on social media that he disagreed with the enforcement practice of destroying equipment.

“We should not be burning anything, machinery, tractors, whatever it is,” he said.

Santos had been appointed as a regional head of Ibama by Bolsonaro’s environment minister, who has also been a staunch defender of the president’s line on environmental protection.

Reporting by Pedro Fonseca; Writing by Marcelo Rochabrun; Editing by Bernadette Baum