Brazil's Bolsonaro fires land rights chief at urging of farm official: sources

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BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro has fired the head of the agency responsible for rural land rights at the urging of an official backed by the country’s powerful agriculture lobby, two sources told Reuters on Monday.

The agency, known as Incra, is responsible for demarcating land for new farming settlements, often created on remote Brazilian land with no other owner, much of it in the Amazon rainforest.

But approvals of new deeds for these properties have virtually ground to a halt in recent years as Brazil’s economy went through a deep recession and Incra faced severe budget cuts. The country’s agriculture lobby has been pushing for this backlog of requests for new land deeds, some pending for more than a decade, to finally be addressed.

Bolsonaro, who won election by aligning himself closely with farmers, has fired Incra head Joao Carlos Jesus Correa under pressure from Land Issues Secretary Nabhan Garcia at the Agriculture Ministry, two people familiar with the matter said.

All of Incra’s directors, who had been appointed by Correa, were also fired, the sources said.

Garcia had been calling for Correa, an active military general, to be fired for months, saying that the agency needed to act more quickly, one of the people said.

Bolsonaro’s official spokesman Otavio Rego Barros declined to confirm Correa’s firing, although Barros said the president had met with Garcia and the agriculture minister. The Agriculture Ministry declined to comment on the firing. Correa could not be immediately reached for comment.

Garcia, a former congressman and long-time conservative leader in the farm sector, had initially been tipped to be agriculture minister but was later appointed as land issues secretary, a position newly created under Bolsonaro.

He remains an influential figure within the administration. The head of Brazil’s indigenous affairs agency Funai, Franklimberg Ribeiro de Freitas, blamed Garcia for his firing in June. Bolsonaro has sought to open up indigenous reservations to mining and farming.

Reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu; Writing by Jake Spring; Editing by Cynthia Osterman