Brazil Launches Military Operations to Protect Amazon Rainforest in Dry Season

May 11, 2020 Updated: May 11, 2020

BRASILIA—Brazil deployed thousands of soldiers to protect the Amazon rainforest on Monday, taking precautions to avoid spreading the novel coronavirus, as the government mounts preventative measures before the dry season and high forest fire risk sets in.

The armed forces, alongside environmental officials, police, and other government agencies, began with an operation in a national forest in Rondonia state, near the Bolivian border, Vice President Hamilton Mourão said at a news conference.

Deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon hit an estimated 11-year high last year, spurring outcry that Brazil was not doing enough to protect the world’s largest rainforests.

President Jair Bolsonaro authorized the deployment, sending in troops three months earlier than in 2019, when Amazon fires grabbed global headlines.

Bolsonaro and Macron
France’s President Emmanuel Macron and Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro attend an event on women’s empowerment during the G20 Summit in Osaka on June 29, 2019. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

Defense Minister Fernando Azevedo said the armed forces are establishing bases in three Amazon cities, with 3,800 troops mobilized against illegal logging, illegal mining, and other environmental crimes, at an initial operational cost of 60 million reais ($10 million).

Azevedo said each base was also assigned five specialists in chemical warfare to help avoid spreading the novel coronavirus through the operations.

The military is currently authorized for deployment for 30 days ending June 10. That could be extended with the approach of the dry season, when forest fires generally spread, and the military will seek to assist in fire prevention, Mourão said.

“We have no doubt this problem will continue to exist,” he said. “We don’t consider this the best job for the armed forces, to be always engaged in this type of action, but unfortunately it’s the means we have to limit these crimes from happening.”

The armed forces will continue to be used until environmental agencies, like the main enforcement agency Ibama, increase their staff, Mourão said. An economic downturn and budget restrictions have prevented Ibama from hiring new agents, thinning its ranks.

Environment Minister Ricardo Salles said he was confident the government’s actions under Mourão’s direction would succeed in lowering deforestation.

By Jake Spring