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Brazil's military fails to tame rising Amazon deforestation in May

by Reuters
Friday, 12 June 2020 14:45 GMT

An aerial view of a tract of Amazon jungle after it was cleared by farmers in Itaituba, Para, Brazil September 26, 2019. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes

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Destruction in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest increased 12% in May, according to government data

(Adds Brazilian VP applauding military, cost of operation)

By Jake Spring

BRASILIA, June 12 (Reuters) - Deforestation in Brazil's Amazon rainforest rose for a 13th consecutive month in May, government data showed on Friday, despite President Jair Bolsonaro's deployment of the military to fight soaring environmental destruction in the region.

Destruction in Brazil's portion of the Amazon increased 12% in May, compared with the same month a year ago, according to preliminary satellite data from space research agency INPE.

The rise contradicts Brazil's vice president, who earlier in the week applauded the military for taming deforestation last month.

From January to May, deforestation rose 34% compared with a year ago to 2,032 square kilometers (785 square miles), an area more than two times the size of New York City.

Bolsonaro, a former army captain, sent the military to protect the Amazon in May, repeating a similar move he made in August last year as international outcry grew over forest fires.

"Now in May with them in the field, the deforestation alerts continued to be high. So this isn't a model that is effective to reduce deforestation," said Cristiane Mazzetti, a forest campaigner for Greenpeace Brasil.

Instead of one-off military operations, Mazzetti said, the government should be strengthening permanent, long-term plans to protect the Amazon using environmental agencies like Ibama, which Bolsonaro has aggressively sought to weaken.

On Wednesday, Bolsonaro extended the military deployment for another 30 days.

The rise in May went against comments by Vice President Hamilton Mourão, a retired army general heading the government's Amazon response.

"Deforestation in the month of May fell to a minimum in comparison to previous years. So our first objective has been achieved," Mourão said in a press conference on Tuesday that hailed the military's success.

Mourão's office did not immediately respond to questions on the contradiction.

Environmentalists have also criticized the cost of using the military, with the government estimating it spent 60 million reais ($11.94 million) for the first 30 days.

Bolsonaro has pushed to develop the Amazon, which he says will lift its people out of poverty, but environmental advocates blame his policies for emboldening illegal loggers, ranchers and land speculators.

Data released by Mapbiomas, a satellite mapping initiative, last month showed 99% of Brazil's deforestation in 2019 was illegal.

Scientists see the protection of the Amazon, the world's largest rainforest, as vital to curbing climate change as it absorbs vast amounts of carbon dioxide.

Soaring deforestation this year comes on top of an 11-year high in 2019. On Wednesday, INPE revised up 2019 figures to show a 34% rise, compared with 29.5% in the preliminary calculation. ($1 = 5.0231 reais)

(Reporting by Jake Spring; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)